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Oyster River Community Read fosters community by bringing people together through books and reading. Our spring book choice, Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race, by author and racial justice educator Debby Irving, provided an inclusive way for people in Lee, Durham, and Madbury to explore the timely topic of race, culture, and diversity. This book opened a needed dialogue in our three-town community around difficult and challenging questions, presented in ways intended to unite us. Films, speakers, art exhibits, an arts workshop series, and an author’s talk augmented the book readings and discussions, providing additional creative ways to engage diverse audiences. Over and over again, participants remarked about how much they learned from hearing other people’s perspectives.
Close to 900 people took part in the Oyster River Community Read. We heard stories of childhood inequities that impacted our families’ education and wealth. We heard stories about misconceptions and assumptions that led to pain, fear, and suffering in schools, workplaces, and neighborhoods. We heard triumphant stories of protests, upstanders, friendships, and marriages. We listened with compassion and patience to one another and we shared with courage and trust. When author Debby Irving came to speak about her book, she reminded us that changing our national climate from its patterns of systemic racism will involve discomfort, but that we have a responsibility to lean in to the conversation, particularly as a white majority community, if we want to see racism end.
So many of us have had the experience of feeling changed through reading a book, an experience that inspires us to see the world differently and to understand our place among humanity in a new light. When a community does this together it becomes a powerful tool that invites collaboration and united growth, or a broad shift in a similar direction, not as a final point or destination, but as a moment when we recognize our similarities and differences with grace and respect. It encourages dialogue that starts not in the defensive, but in the opening up through curiosity. We begin to build connections.
We are grateful to New Hampshire Humanities for its support through a $1,000 Community Project Grant, and for pushing us to articulate the ideas and questions central to our project: How could a progressive community with good intentions be home to discrimination and racism? How do we, in mostly white New Hampshire, fit into the national narrative of racial strife, now and in our past? How do we change that narrative?
To learn more about the Oyster River Community Read and to find resources on white privilege and racism, visit www.orcread.org.
- Kristin Forselius, organizing chair of Oyster River Community Read
New Hampshire Humanities programs are made possible in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this these programs do not necessarily represent those of the NEH or New Hampshire Humanities.