• hbjacques

A town that reads together comes together

What makes a town a town? A place where people feel at home? A place where everyone is accepted? A place of opportunity?

There are many ingredients. They include a town hall, DPW, churches and clubs. A town must have good schools, and a town must have a library.

Add to this good restaurants, a swimming pool, a park, a skating rink and an ice cream parlor. OK, these are my picks; I’m sure you have yours.

But there is something else we need to make our town real, and that’s a sense of history. Where we’re coming from. Without this it’s hard to determine where we’re going?

Our history is both local and national, both regional and global, as we trace the origins of our citizens and the stories of those who came before us.

Stoneham Reads, sponsored by the Stoneham Community Corporation (CDC) and the Stoneham Public Library, will launch a new program designed to start a conversation. It’s an invitation to all of us to join in reading a remarkable book, the New York Times bestseller, Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You.

By Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds, Stamped is about our history, our American history. It’s a look at our collective past not from the top down but from the bottom up. It’s a people’s history, full of stories often left out of our history classes in school.

Geared to both students and adults, Stamped is about racism in America, its source and its continuance. But it’s more than that. It’s also the stories of people of amazing courage, past and present. It’s about overcoming.

“To know the past is to know the present,” writes Kendi. “To know the present is to know yourself.”

A remix of Kendi’s longer narrative, Stamped is written as if the author is talking directly to the reader. It’s occasionally humorous, the humor of irony, and occasionally tragic. It asks the reader to look at things in a different way. Here’s what I have seen. Here’s what I want you to see.

Joining Kendi, prize-winning historian, is Jason Reynolds, a Newbury Medal honoree and author of many books for adults and young readers.

As I delved into Reynolds’ and Kendi’s book, I thought of the car ad that goes, “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile.” Indeed, at the start, Reynolds writes: “Before we begin, let’s get something straight,” Reynolds begins Chapter 1. “This is not a history book. At least not like the ones you’re used to reading in school.”

If you’re wondering about the book’s relevance to our own history, remember that in our early days, several families in Stoneham owned slaves. Remember also the struggles of Stoneham abolitionists to protest human bondage, the movement that led to the Civil War.

Getting cross-town readership of any book is a challenge. But this spring, we all have a chance to do something together, something significant to our wellbeing, as individuals, and as a town.

The Stoneham Reads project is the brainchild of a group of educators, parents and citizens. Look for launching of the project next month. And if you’re like me, you’ll want to get a head start by purchasing Stamped at our own bookstore, the Book Oasis on Main Street.

-- Ben Jacques

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