Author Works with Naima Coster: What’s Mine and Yours – 2022 One Maryland One Book 

By Piyali C.

Swatches of color in pale green, beige-pink, cranberry, orange read, and yellow are layered above the silhouette of a town. The swatches resolve to be

Tue, October 4 | 7 – 8 pm
HCLS Miller Branch
Register at this link. 

The theme for One Maryland One Book this year was “new beginning.” As a member of the selection committee, I was assigned to read What’s Mine and Yours as a potential title. It took me a while to recognize the theme in this story, but I realized that instead of the theme being overarching, hope or a new beginning, operates somewhat cyclically in this novel.  

The story opens with the prospect of new beginnings – two men stand at the cusp of a beautiful, happy life. Two fathers share a cigarette and a brief conversation one day about their dreams surrounding the amazing lives that they envision for their children. However, disaster strikes soon after and the lives of both those families take vastly different turns than what the fathers dreamed.  

The story revolves around two families who confront each other over a busing initiative in 2002 in Piedmont, North Carolina. Jade has suffered an immeasurable loss in her life already. Now she wants her only son, Gee, to get all the opportunities that she did not have so he can become a successful, sensitive Black man in America. After her husband is incarcerated, Lacy May, a White woman, is equally determined to keep children like Gee away from her White-passing, biracial daughters. She does not want them influenced by the children from the east side of town at their predominantly white school.

However, Gee and Noelle, Lacy May’s eldest daughter, become friends, which soon turns into more when they meet during a school play. The lives of these two families intersect despite the mothers being on opposite sides of the debate over the county’s decision to enforce integration. The busing initiative provides the primary conflict, with the repercussions manifested in the adult lives of the central characters – Jade and Gee, Lacy May and her three daughters. Despite the different directions each character grows, they all manage to find their new beginnings by the end of the book, in big ways and small.  

Although the story begins in Piedmont, North Carolina, the issues addressed in What’s Mine and Yours are relevant to other parts of United States, including in Maryland and even Howard County. The theme of school desegregation to address socioeconomic disparity is especially pertinent as The Baltimore Sun reports, by 2014, Maryland was the third most racially segregated state in the nation, with one-quarter of its schools considered highly segregated.  

The integration efforts described in the book will touch a relatable chord and inspire interesting and, hopefully, productive discussions. While the story revolves around an effort to desegregate schools, the book explores other, hugely relevant issues, such as the struggles of Black teens trying to prove that they are good enough to be in a White-dominated world, the question of why they have to prove that they are good enough, White-passing biracial people and issues that they deal with, complicated relationships between lovers, sisters, LGBTQIA+ identity, infidelity, abortion, and miscarriage – all things relevant to our present moment. 

We are thrilled that Howard County Library system is the only public library in Maryland on author Naima Coster’s six-stop tour! 

A young Black woman with short curly hair, wearing a black V-neck shirt stands by a wall painted in flowers.

Naima Coster is a graduate of Yale University, Fordham University, and the Columbia University School of the Arts where she earned her MFA. She has taught writing for more than a decade in community settings, youth programs, and universities. She currently teaches in the low-residency MFA program at Antioch University in L.A. She is a 2022 mentor for the Periplus Collective.

One Maryland One Book is a program of Maryland Humanities. This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Maryland State Library. We would also like to thank our valuable partners Howard County Poetry and Literature Society (HoCoPoLitSo) and the Office of Human Rights & Equity (OHRE) and the Last Word bookstore.  

What’s Mine and Yours is available in print and e-audiobook

Piyali is an instructor and research specialist at the Miller Branch of HCLS, where she co-facilitates both Global Reads and Strictly Historical Fiction and keeps the hope alive that someday she will reach the bottom of her to-read list.
 

The Solidarity Dividend

The Sum of Us by Heather McGhee: A cover full of color blocks resolves as a diving board into swimming pool with a white boy jumping off the end and a black girl climbing the ladder.

“I’m a white male, and I am prejudiced.” In August 2016 on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, public policy expert Heather McGhee, answered the challenge presented by Garry, a caller from North Carolina. He asked, ”What can I do to change, you know, to be a better American?” The video went viral due to McGhee’s reasoned, compassionate response. Thanking the caller for being honest while acknowledging we all have prejudices, McGhee proceeded to offer advice including, “In order to be a demos that is united across lines of race and class and gender and age, we have to foster relationships. We have to get to know who one another actually is.” When McGhee’s book, The Sum of Us, was published, I was curious to learn more from her. After reading it, I especially appreciate McGhee’s insight into how the mentality of “us and them” was built and how we can break it down. 

The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together describes how all ethnic and class groups suffer when racism influences government policy. McGhee researched the roots of economic disparity in the United States and explored causes and solutions from a perspective of unity rather than division. She argues that many problems with wage distribution, education, health care, housing, and environmental policy arise from the concept of a zero-sum game. When citizens perceive one racial group’s gain as another group’s loss, we cannot work for a common good. She documents how everyone loses out when racial hierarchy guides legislation. When public pools are filled with cement to circumvent enforcement of desegregation legislation, all the kids whose parents can’t afford private pools can’t go swimming. Using the concept of the public pool as a central metaphor, McGhee deconstructs how the US reached today’s level of political division and how American society can move forward, allowing all races, ethnicities, and classes to thrive. 

Of course, the idea of “what helps you, hurts me,“ goes beyond kids not being able to cool down in a pool in the summertime. The Sum of Us carefully traces trade union busting, healthcare access gaps, rising costs of public colleges, and the sub-prime mortgage crisis back to racial profiling. The resulting wage stagnation, benefit cuts, student debt, and foreclosures affected all racial groups.  

McGhee’s empathy raises The Sum of Us to a higher level than some other books I’ve read on similar topics. For example, as a self-proclaimed data nerd, she clearly explains the economics of the 2007-2010 financial crisis but then goes beyond the numbers to show, “what was risky wasn’t the borrower; it was the loan.” I gained understanding not only of the economics of the crisis, but the societal toll. Although predatory loan practices were initially targeted at low-income Blacks, later, the loans were pitched to everyone, regardless of their credit status. Many borrowers were eligible for prime mortgages but were manipulated to accept sub-prime mortgages because of the financial bonanza for the lender. McGhee presents this as yet another situation where racism eventually hurt everyone. 

McGhee has coined the phrase “Solidarity Dividend” for the benefits arising from communities collaborating across the racial divide. From minimum wage increases to investment in affordable housing development to improvement in air and water quality, the Solidarity Dividend boosts the economy while enhancing quality of life. “Getting white support to address those different levels of need, and to acknowledge the racism that caused these differences, is never easy – particularly when the zero-sum mental model turns every concession into a threat of loss,” McGhee writes. The Sum of Us demands to be read both for the well-researched documentation of the past and the message for our future.  

By the way, Heather and Garry, a disabled Navy veteran, built a friendship. Garry continues to work on understanding racism and realigning his own thinking. 

Cherise Tasker is an Adult Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch. When not immersed in literary fiction, Cherise can be found singing along to musical theater soundtracks. 

Racism, Health & Action

A photo of a hospital's emergency room entrance, with EMERGENCY in large red letters, acts as a marquee for "Dr. Camara Jones speaks on racism, health, and action."

by Katie DiSalvo-Thronson

What can we do to live in a more just society where more people thrive, and race doesn’t determine people’s health?

HCLS is proud to present Dr. Camara Phyllis Jones, MD, MPH, PhD, a family physician, epidemiologist, and past President of the American Public Health Association, whose work focuses on naming, measuring, and addressing the impacts of racism on the health and well-being of our nation and the world. Dr. Jones speaks online tomorrow, Tuesday July 13, at 7 pm. Registration is required.

Dr. Jones’ work has been foundational to how our country thinks about race and public health and racial equity more broadly. This live webinar is a great opportunity to begin or deepen your understanding of these issues.

Dr. Jones speaks on how racism is a huge roadblock to achieving health equity in the United States, and how systemic racism, which we can act to dismantle, saps the strength of the whole society. She also provides definitions, frameworks, and other tools to equip participants to engage in a National Campaign Against Racism with three tasks: 1) name racism, 2) ask “How is racism operating here?”, and 3) organize and strategize to act.

In the Q&A segment and subsequent programs, we will bring the conversation to our county. What health disparities do people suffer from in Howard County and what can we do about it? Want a taste of Dr. Jones’ insight and perspective? Listen to this NPR piece.

Join us for the live Zoom presentation and Q&A discussion moderated by Kenitra Fokwa Kengne, Senior Program Officer at the Horizon Foundation. This is the first event in the Racial Equity and Local Action series, presented by Howard County Library System and sponsored by the Horizon Foundation. Register today.

Katie is the Community Education and Engagement Manager for HCLS. She loves people, the big questions, the woods, and chocolate.

National Library Week 2021: State of Howard County Library System

Colorful banner with letters in bright boxes reads: Welcome to your library. National Library Week:: April 4-10, 2021

By Tonya Aikens, President & CEO of Howard County Library System

It’s National Library Week, a time to celebrate libraries! This year’s theme, Welcome to Your Library, is especially fitting as we welcome customers back inside our branches for limited in-person service for the first time since closing last March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

While our doors were closed, our libraries were indeed open. Our team pivoted quickly and effectively to assist customers, develop and teach virtual classes, lead virtual book discussion groups, present renowned authors and speakers, coordinate virtual events, make more eBooks and eAudiobooks available, create a COVID portal with community resources, and work on a phased reopening plan – all while adapting to life in a pandemic.  

We created new opportunities to connect and engage – changing the Longest Table from a physical to a virtual table, converting the HiTech Carnival to a carnival-in-a-bag experience, transforming Evening in the Stacks into a virtual trip to Italy, adapting the Battle of the Books academic competition to an online space, creating Bundle Bags for people who missed being able to browse the shelves, launching a new blog, adding STEM Activity Kits to our collection, and lending Chromebooks and hotspots to help address the digital divide for those without devices or internet access.  

While dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are also addressing the pandemic of racial injustice by integrating equity practices into our internal and external work, launching a Racial Equity Alliance, and supporting community building. Watch for news in coming weeks on our website and social media channels.  

Underlying all our work is a commitment to education for everyone in our community. We look forward to launching the On the Road to Kindergarten mobile unit later this summer, enabling us to bring our preschool classes and learning resources to children of families who do not have access to our six branches. By making these classes and services fully accessible, children can take their first steps to become ready for kindergarten. 

It’s clear that at Howard County Library System, we offer endless opportunities to transform lives, whether you visit our branches in person or virtually. 

We are grateful for our supporters and donors, especially the Friends & Foundation of HCLS, and our customers. Our staff is excited to welcome you back to your library! 

Community Engagement for Equity

A woman with long dark hair holds a sign that reads, "Listen. Respond positively. Be courageous! Show Compassion!"
Smiling woman holding a motivational message from the Longest Table event.

by Katie DiSalvo-Thronson

Learn about what’s local!

This fall we designed and launched a new series of programs to educate customers about local diversity, equity, and inclusion issues, and connect participants to organizations taking action on those topics.

Why? Our mission to provide high-quality education for all must include education about our own community! As local news coverage has decreased, it is especially imperative to create conversations and presentations where our shared experience as Howard County residents is discussed and analyzed. We hope you come learn with us, and that our programming helps you contribute to our community.

Look forward to events on the county council’s Racial Equity Taskforce and more.

Learn about your neighbors!

In strategic planning events held with over 500 residents in 2019 and early 2020, HCLS staff heard loud and clear that people are interested in ways to learn about each other. People said they want opportunities to bridge what can feel like racial, cultural, and political divides in the country and build more community. At the excellent 2020 virtual Longest Table, participants voiced this request again.

Howard County is asking HCLS to make spaces for people to connect with and learn from each other. Look ahead to more programming in 2021 with small group discussion, especially on diversity, equity, and inclusion topics.

Additionally, HCLS will be launching a story collection effort on racial equity issues. We have two goals. First, we hope to build community – that sharing and listening to stories will increase our understanding of each other, provide recognition of diverse experiences, and spur new relationships. Second, we seek impact. We will use our stories to understand local diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts more precisely. We will publicly share stories and community-led analysis of these stories to help inform local decision-making. We can’t wait to start this process with you.

Stay tuned at hclibrary.org and through HiLights, our weekly email newsletter.

Katie is the Community Education and Engagement Manager for HCLS. She loves people, the big questions, the woods, and chocolate.