BGSU faculty and alumni working to address racism
Ibram Kendi's 'Stamped' book is center of Perrysburg coalition's book discussion series
By Julie Carle
Several Bowling Green State University faculty, staff and alumni are leading a Perrysburg organization’s efforts to talk about racism and social justice.
The Perrysburg Coalition for Inclusion and Social Justice, whose participants represent a wide spectrum of backgrounds and expertise, wants to “help people take responsibility for creating a more equitable society,” said Ciera Ford, a 2014 BGSU alumna and a co-chair of the coalition’s leadership team. The organization was founded by Colleen Boff, University Libraries, and an alumna of the Educational Leadership doctoral program, in response to a racist incident in Perrysburg in Summer 2019.
Their latest outreach is a five-series book discussion on Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s National Book Award-winning “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.”
“We felt the book was a foundational piece to explain how as a nation we keep landing in what seems to be a continuous loop of racial turmoil,” Ford said. “So many books look at how to attack the issue of racism; this one addresses the foundations of racism, which would allow us to take a more in-depth look at how to deconstruct racist ideals and ideologies.”
Because this topic is important for educators as well as the community, the series has been approved for professional development credit for K-12 teachers at Maumee City Schools, Perrysburg Public Schools and the Toledo School for the Arts.
“Awareness raising in identifying and seeing where racism is prevalent and still exists,” are important reasons for bringing this discussion to the community, Ford said.
“It is paramount for us to help our youth see the world from vantage points outside of their own,” Ford said. “By educating our youth on the wrongdoings of our past through a critical and culturally responsive lens, we are building better leaders and citizens who can go on to break down racial barriers, dismantle racist systems and stand up for the oppressed and against oppression.”
Dr. Jolie Sheffer, director of BGSU’s Institute for the Study of Culture and Society and chair of the Perrysburg coalition, is proud of the coalition’s work to connect educators to the book discussion. The idea of providing credit to teachers for participating helped build the groundwork that has already been started in these school districts.
“If we are thinking about trying to transform our institutions so they don’t reproduce inequality, which includes policing, education, courts, etc., we need to involve those institutions,” Sheffer said. “It’s not just about wagging our fingers, but it’s about self-reflection as individuals and also the roles we play in the institutions we are a part of and how we can then connect it to what we can do about it.”
The book discussions are set up on research-based information, using the framework that Kendi set up in his book, focusing on one figure who illustrates how white supremacy shaped various eras of American history.
“How do we take what we are doing in the borders of a campus and use that in the community?” Sheffer said about BGSU’s involvement in the coalition work. “That’s part of the common denominator. The members of the coalition, whether they are teachers, school counselors, lawyers or whatever, they are trying to bring their expertise from that corner of their life into the community.”
The book discussions will be held once a month from 7 to 8:30 p.m. beginning Jan. 14 through May 13 via Zoom.
In addition to the BGSU community’s involvement on the coalition, two BGSU professors and a BGSU alumna are also providing the historical context for some of the chapters. Dr. Scott C. Martin, professor of history, will present on Cotton Mather on Jan. 14; Dr. Shirley Green, a BGSU alumna and adjunct professor of history at University of Toledo, will present on William Lloyd Garrison on March 11; and Dr. Nicole Jackson, professor of history, will present on Angela Davis on May 13.
This is just one example of the BGSU community’s participation in important topics and local organizations such as Not In Our Town, Bowling Green’s Human Rights Community and the BG Community Read initiative. “Members of the BGSU community are really working hard in a variety of ways, not just to transform the university but to work for change in communities,” Sheffer said.
Details and registration for all five of the coalition’s book discussions are available on the coalition website.