Reflections on Impactful Literature

Honoring Black History Series: This month as a part of our commitment to honor black history, Access team members will be sharing about businesses, books, literature, stories, podcasts, films, songs, or pieces of art created by black authors, leaders, entrepreneurs, and artists that have impacted us.

By Lily Lemkuil, a senior Social Work student at Calvin University and current intern for the Congregations Connections program at Access of West Michigan. 

 â€œLetter From a Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King Jr, The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, Tears we Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson 

One of the most impactful pieces of literature I have read is “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King Junior. I first read it when I was in high school, and have continued to re-read it throughout my time in college. This letter has been impactful for me as it opened my eyes to injustices my eyes weren’t trained to see. I grew up in a predominately white, Dutch Reformed community, and black and brown voices were not ones my ears were tuned to hear growing up. As I have re-read the letter, I have been encouraged to do the work of understanding race in our nation and pursuing justice and equitable systems. As a white individual, MLK’s discussion of the “white moderate” has been specifically influential for me as it is something I have seen so often throughout my life. I appreciate the way MLK lovingly calls out the white moderate. This letter is one that I believe every person should read as it calls to specific voices in different ways. 

As I’ve been in college, I was introduced to The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander which is a book that radically changed the framework I was working from, and gave me such a better vision of the systemic and institutionalized racism in our country. I think everyone should read it to further understand the depths of racism in our systems and policies and how that impacts people’s every day life. Additionally, I read Tears we Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson. This book is beautifully written as it follows the flow of a church services. It calls out some very grim realities for people of color living in the United States, and also gives a call to white Americans. As a white individual, it was an important read for me as it gave me a glimpse of experiences I have never and will never experience because of my privilege, and also deepened my understanding of what I can do with my privilege.  

I think these three pieces of literature are important for all people to read. They have been foundational for my understanding of the realities in our country and also for calling me to pursue justice in daily actions and in my work. I am thankful for the black voices that fearlessly call out injustices and provide hope for change. 

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