Come Join our Urban Engagement Book Club, Presenting Books in the Social Justice Arena – Here’s the Line-up for 2015

Do you read enough in the human need category?

You know; the issues of racism; education for the less-than-wealthy; poverty; the working poor; the not-working poor; hunger; challenges for immigrants… the list is a long one.

It boils down to this. People need food to eat, health care for their bodies, effective and inclusive educational opportunities; jobs to provide resources for all that life offers…

I speak monthly at the First Friday Book Synopsis, and to other audiences, on books about business issues. How to be more productive, more successful, more forward-thinking about success. Those kinds of issues.

CitySquareLogoBut I also speak monthly for the Urban Engagement Book Club, sponsored by a large nonprofit in Dallas, CitySquare. You really should take a good, long look at their web site. It is astonishing what all they have accomplished – and what they provide to people who need help. (By the way, we all could use some help, couldn’t we?).. They just recently opened their “Opportunity Center,” which is now where we conduct the Urban Engagement Book Club. It is right near downtown Dallas. It is amazing what all goes on at that facility. They have government agencies, non-profit entities, a food pantry, getting into or back into work help, all within a “one-stop Opportunity Center.” (Good name for their facility!).

So… as you read your novels, and your business books, and your books on how to be more productive and successful in business, maybe you could add a book or three about human need to your reading stack.

If you are in the DFW area, I invite you to attend the Urban Engagement Book Club. I prepare the same kind of handout for this as I do for business books — pages of excerpts and quotes from the books; key lessons, my takeaways. Of course, it is best if you also read the books. But, even if you don’t, my presentations provide enough to get you thinking. Following my book synopsis presentation, Rev. Gerald Britt, Vice-President of Public Policy and Workforce Development for CitySquare, leads the group in a “what does this mean; what do we do with this” discussion. (Occasionally, a guest facilitator from the community will lead this discussion).

We meet every month, on the third Thursday of the month. The line up of books is really a consciousness-raising, mini-education selection. Think of this as a valuable two day seminar, but held in 1 1/2 hour increments over a twelve month period.

Small-Tomlinson-Hill-CoverNext month, February 19, I will present my synopsis of the book Tomlinson Hill by Chris Tomlinson. The foreword is written by LaDainian Tomlinson, the great football player. Their ancestral roots entwine in the same piece of land near Waco, Texas. One white, the other black. Former slave family, former slave-owner family. Reminiscent of the words of Dr. King:

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

Here’s the whole line up for the year, with a little information about each book. The list, with the book information, makes this kind of a long post – but, you can chose which books to read about, and then which books to actually read.

Seriously, if you are near Dallas, come join us. If not, start your own book club.   This is a pretty good list of books to tackle. (We’ve done this for quite a few years. now. Here’s a blog post with “social justice must reads,” highlighting some of the books I’ve presented in previoius years.

(If you want any of my synopsis handouts, send me an e-mail, and I will be glad to sent them to you. Of course, only January’s selecion is already prepared). Click here to send me an e-mail.

So, let am ask again —

Do you read enough in the human need category?


Here is the line-up for the Third Thursdays of 2015.

2014 Urban Engagement Book Club (Hosted by CitySquare)
Every Third Thursday at Noon
Opportunity Center
1610 S. Malcolm X Blvd, Dallas Texas 75226

January 15 – Education
The Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools — Diane Ravitch
From one of the foremost authorities on education in the United States, former U.S. assistant secretary of education, an incisive, comprehensive look at today’s American school system that argues against those who claim it is broken and beyond repair; an impassioned but reasoned call to stop the privatization movement that is draining students and funding from our public schools.
In a chapter-by-chapter breakdown she puts forth a plan for what can be done to preserve and improve our public schools. She makes clear what is right about U.S. education, how policy makers are failing to address the root causes of educational failure, and how we can fix it.

February 19 – Race
Tomlinson Hill — Chris Tomlinson
Tomlinson Hill is the stunning story of two families—one white, one black—who trace their roots to a slave plantation that bears their name. Internationally recognized for his work as a fearless war correspondent, award-winning journalist Chris Tomlinson grew up hearing stories about his family’s abandoned cotton plantation in Falls County, Texas. Most of the tales lionized his white ancestors for pioneering along the Brazos River. His grandfather often said the family’s slaves loved them so much that they also took Tomlinson as their last name. LaDainian Tomlinson, football great and former running back for the San Diego Chargers, spent part of his childhood playing on the same land that his black ancestors had worked as slaves. As a child, LaDainian believed the Hill was named after his family. Not until he was old enough to read an historical plaque did he realize that the Hill was named for his ancestor’s slaveholders. A masterpiece of authentic American history, Tomlinson Hill traces the true and very revealing story of these two families. From the beginning in 1854— when the first Tomlinson, a white woman, arrived—to 2007, when the last Tomlinson, LaDainian’s father, left,  the book unflinchingly explores the history of race and bigotry in Texas. Along the way it also manages to disclose a great many untruths that are latent in the unsettling and complex story of America. Tomlinson Hill is also the basis for a film and an interactive web project. The award-winning film, which airs on PBS, concentrates on present-day Marlin, Texas and how the community struggles with poverty and the legacy of race today,  and is accompanied by an interactive web site called Voice of Marlin, which stores the oral histories collected along the way. Chris Tomlinson has used the reporting skills he honed as a highly respected reporter covering ethnic violence in Africa and the Middle East to fashion a perfect microcosm of America’s own ethnic strife. The economic inequality, political shenanigans, cruelty and racism—both subtle and overt—that informs the history of Tomlinson Hill also live on in many ways to this very day in our country as a whole. The author has used his impressive credentials and honest humanity to create a classic work of American history that will take its place alongside the timeless work of our finest historians

March 19 – Fundamentalism in religion (with focus on Islamic fundamentalism)
Hatred’s Kingdom — Dore Gold
Using previously unpublished documents, Gold, former Israeli Ambassador to the UN and internationally known Middle East strategy expert, pieces together the links between the current wave of global terrorism — from the World Trade Center to Bali, Indonesia — and the ideology of hatred taught in too many schools and mosques.

April 16 – Civic Culture
Civic Sermons: Ideas for a Difference Civic Culture — Gerald Britt
“All politics is local” is a well-worn aphorism that provides the reason why the words of Gerald Britt are significant. In this collection of “Civic Sermons,” Britt dives deep into the waters of local politics. As he explores the issues and decisions that affect the local community, you will discover that he also uncovers the moral truths that guide us toward making the right decisions. As you read about young men dying too early on our city streets, or community leaders striving to find better solutions for housing, or the damming truth about payday lending, it will be obvious how these very local events provide insight into our culture as a whole. “Civic Sermons” provides the knowledge and understanding of one who has been on the front lines and understands the issues, both political and personal. This collection of sermons will not only give new understanding, but they will also motivate you to become a part of the solution. Rev. Gerald Britt has served as pastor of New Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church for 22 years. He currently serves as the VP of Public Policy & Community Program Development for City Square (formerly called Central Dallas Ministries). Rev. Britt writes a monthly column for the Dallas Morning News, and contributes to his blog “Change the Wind.”

May 21 – Race and Economics
Empire of Cotton: A Global History — Sven Beckert
The epic story of the rise and fall of the empire of cotton, its centrality to the world economy, and its making and remaking of global capitalism. Cotton is so ubiquitous as to be almost invisible, yet understanding its history is key to understanding the origins of modern capitalism. Sven Beckert’s rich, fascinating book tells the story of how, in a remarkably brief period, European entrepreneurs and powerful statesmen recast the world’s most significant manufacturing industry, combining imperial expansion and slave labor with new machines and wage workers to change the world. Here is the story of how, beginning well before the advent of machine production in the 1780s, these men captured ancient trades and skills in Asia, and combined them with the expropriation of lands in the Americas and the enslavement of African workers to crucially reshape the disparate realms of cotton that had existed for millennia, and how industrial capitalism gave birth to an empire, and how this force transformed the world. The empire of cotton was, from the beginning, a fulcrum of constant global struggle between slaves and planters, merchants and statesmen, workers and factory owners. Beckert makes clear how these forces ushered in the world of modern capitalism, including the vast wealth and disturbing inequalities that are with us today. The result is a book as unsettling as it is enlightening: a book that brilliantly weaves together the story of cotton with how the present global world came to exist.

June 18 – Poverty & Inequality
Capital in the Twenty-First Century — Thomas Pikkety
What are the grand dynamics that drive the accumulation and distribution of capital? Questions about the long-term evolution of inequality, the concentration of wealth, and the prospects for economic growth lie at the heart of political economy. But satisfactory answers have been hard to find for lack of adequate data and clear guiding theories. In Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Piketty analyzes a unique collection of data from twenty countries, ranging as far back as the eighteenth century, to uncover key economic and social patterns. His findings will transform debate and set the agenda for the next generation of thought about wealth and inequality. Piketty shows that modern economic growth and the diffusion of knowledge have allowed us to avoid inequalities on the apocalyptic scale predicted by Karl Marx. But we have not modified the deep structures of capital and inequality as much as we thought in the optimistic decades following World War II. The main driver of inequality–the tendency of returns on capital to exceed the rate of economic growth–today threatens to generate extreme inequalities that stir discontent and undermine democratic values. But economic trends are not acts of God. Political action has curbed dangerous inequalities in the past, Piketty says, and may do so again. A work of extraordinary ambition, originality, and rigor, Capital in the Twenty-First Century reorients our understanding of economic history and confronts us with sobering lessons for today.

July 16 – Hispanic Culture
Our America: A Hispanic History of the United States — Felipe Fernandez-Armesto
The United States is still typically conceived of as an offshoot of England, with our history unfolding east to west beginning with the first English settlers in Jamestown. This view overlooks the significance of America’s Hispanic past. With the profile of the United States increasingly Hispanic, the importance of recovering the Hispanic dimension to our national story has never been greater. This absorbing narrative begins with the explorers and conquistadores who planted Spain’s first colonies in Puerto Rico, Florida, and the Southwest. Missionaries and rancheros carry Spain’s expansive impulse into the late eighteenth century, settling California, mapping the American interior to the Rockies, and charting the Pacific coast. During the nineteenth century Anglo-America expands west under the banner of “Manifest Destiny” and consolidates control through war with Mexico. In the Hispanic resurgence that follows, it is the peoples of Latin America who overspread the continent, from the Hispanic heartland in the West to major cities such as Chicago, Miami, New York, and Boston. The United States clearly has a Hispanic present and future. And here is its Hispanic past, presented with characteristic insight and wit by one of our greatest historians.

August 20 – Race and Politics
Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class — Ian Haney Lopez
Campaigning for president in 1980, Ronald Reagan told stories of Cadillac-driving “welfare queens” and “strapping young bucks” buying T-bone steaks with food stamps. In trumpeting these tales of welfare run amok, Reagan never needed to mention race, because he was blowing a dog whistle: sending a message about racial minorities inaudible on one level, but clearly heard on another. In doing so, he tapped into a long political tradition that started with George Wallace and Richard Nixon, and is more relevant than ever in the age of the Tea Party and the first black president.
In Dog Whistle Politics, Ian Haney López offers a sweeping account of how politicians and plutocrats deploy veiled racial appeals to persuade white voters to support policies that favor the extremely rich yet threaten their own interests. Dog whistle appeals generate middle-class enthusiasm for political candidates who promise to crack down on crime, curb undocumented immigration, and protect the heartland against Islamic infiltration, but ultimately vote to slash taxes for the rich, give corporations regulatory control over industry and financial markets, and aggressively curtail social services. White voters, convinced by powerful interests that minorities are their true enemies, fail to see the connection between the political agendas they support and the surging wealth inequality that takes an increasing toll on their lives. The tactic continues at full force, with the Republican Party using racial provocations to drum up enthusiasm for weakening unions and public pensions, defunding public schools, and opposing health care reform.
Rejecting any simple story of malevolent and obvious racism, Haney López links as never before the two central themes that dominate American politics today: the decline of the middle class and the Republican Party’s increasing reliance on white voters. Dog Whistle Politics will generate a lively and much-needed debate about how racial politics has destabilized the American middle class — white and nonwhite members alike. 

September 17- Education
The Road Out: A Teacher’s Odyssey in Poor America — Deborah Hicks
Can one teacher truly make a difference in her students’ lives when everything is working against them? Can a love for literature and learning save the most vulnerable of youth from a life of poverty? The Road Out is a gripping account of one teacher’s journey of hope and discovery with her students—girls growing up poor in a neighborhood that was once home to white Appalachian workers, and is now a ghetto. Deborah Hicks set out to give one group of girls something she never had: a first-rate education, and a chance to live their dreams. A contemporary tragedy is brought to life as she leads us deep into the worlds of Adriana, Blair, Mariah, Elizabeth, Shannon, Jessica, and Alicia? Seven girls coming of age in poverty.
This is a moving story about girls who have lost their childhoods, but who face the street’s torments with courage and resiliency. “I want out,” says 10-year-old Blair, a tiny but tough girl who is extremely poor and yet deeply imaginative and precocious. Hicks try to convey to her students a sense of the power of fiction and of sisterhood to get them through the toughest years of adolescence. But by the time they’re sixteen, eight years after the start of the class, the girls are experiencing the collision of their youthful dreams with the pitfalls of growing up in chaotic single-parent families amid the deteriorating cityscape. Yet even as they face disappointments and sometimes despair, these girls cling to their desire for a better future. The author’s own life story—from a poorly educated girl in a small mountain town to a Harvard-educated writer, teacher, and social advocate—infuses this chronicle with a message of hope.

October 15- Race
Racism Without Racist: Colorblind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality — Eduardo Bonilla – Silva
Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s acclaimed Racism without Racists documents how beneath our contemporary conversation about race lies a full-blown arsenal of arguments, phrases, and stories that whites use to account for—and ultimately justify—racial inequalities. This provocative book explodes the belief that America is now a color-blind society. The fourth edition adds a chapter on what Bonilla-Silva calls “the new racism,” which provides the essential foundation to explore issues of race and ethnicity in more depth. This edition also updates Bonilla-Silva’s assessment of race in America after President Barack Obama’s re-election. Obama’s presidency, Bonilla-Silva argues, does not represent a sea change in race relations, but rather embodies disturbing racial trends of the past. In this fourth edition, Racism without Racists will continue to challenge readers and stimulate discussion about the state of race in America today.

November 19- Hispanic Culture and Immigration Issues
Border Insecurity: Why Big Money, Fences, and Drones Aren’t Making Us Safer — Sylvia Longmire
When confronted with the challenges of border security and illegal immigration, government officials are fond of saying that our borders have never been as safe and secure as they are now. But ranchers in the borderlands of Arizona and Texas fear for their lands, their cattle, their homes, and sometimes their lives due to the human and drug smuggling traffic that regularly crosses their property. Who is right? What does a secure border actually look like? More importantly, is a secure border a realistic goal for the United States? Border Insecurity examines all the aspects of the challenge—and thriving industry—of trying to keep terrorists, drug smugglers, and illegal immigrants from entering the United States across our land borders. It looks at on-the-ground issues and controversies like the border fence, the usefulness of technology, and shifts in the connection between illegal immigration and drug smuggling, and the potential for terrorists and drug cartels to work together. Border Insecurity also delves into how the border debate itself is part of why the government has failed to improve information sharing and why this is necessary to establish a clear and comprehensive border security strategy.

December 17- Poverty
The Rich and The Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto — Tavis Smiley and Cornel West
Record unemployment and rampant corporate avarice, empty houses but homeless families, dwindling opportunities in an increasingly paralyzed nation-these are the realities of 21st-century America, land of the free and home of the new middle class poor. Award-winning broadcaster Tavis Smiley and Dr. Cornel West, one of the nation’s leading democratic intellectuals, co-hosts of Public Radio’s Smiley & West, now take on the “P” word-poverty. The Rich and the Rest of Us is the next step in the journey that began with “The Poverty Tour: A Call to Conscience” Smiley and West’s 18-city bus tour gave voice to the plight of impoverished Americans of all races, colors, and creeds. With 150 million Americans persistently poor or near poor, the highest numbers in over five decades, Smiley and West argue that now is the time to confront the underlying conditions of systemic poverty in America before it’s too late. By placing the eradication of poverty in the context of the nation’s greatest moments of social transformation- such as the abolition of slavery, woman’s suffrage, and the labor and civil rights movements-ending poverty is sure to emerge as America’s 21st -century civil rights struggle. As the middle class disappears and the safety net is shredded, Smiley and West, building on the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. ask us to confront our fear and complacency with 12 poverty changing ideas. They challenge us to re-examine our assumptions about poverty in America-what it really is and how to eliminate it now.


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