Books allow us the privilege to expand our worlds, alter perceptions, and change societies. To celebrate World Book Day, our team has compiled their favorite social justice books. With the upcoming Book and Journalism Awards on May 22nd and the June 5th release of our President Kerry Kennedy’s book Robert F. Kennedy: Ripples of Hope, the power of the written word has influenced our mission for decades. The following books move our team to work for a more peaceful and just world.
John Heffernan - Executive Director, Human Rights Education
Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath is meaningful to me because it inspires action. The story, brilliantly, takes a natural disaster and the plight of those who were affected by it and highlights abuse of power and inequality. One cannot read it without feeling compassion for the dispossessed and anger toward those who discriminate against the marginalized, in this case, migrant workers.
Kacey Mordecai - Partners for Human Rights Program Officer
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
Particularly in human rights and social justice communities, it becomes almost too easy to speak in generalities about injustice and discrimination. What Stevenson does so brilliantly is to select stories that are so emblematic of the struggle of victims, their families, communities, and advocates that they haunt you and compel you to action. While revealing some of the most damning failures of our society he shows how the actions of one person can really, concretely, make a difference. It's the hope that we're making a better system that keeps us all going.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Every lawyer learns Atticus Finch's closing argument as he defends Tom Robinson, a black man charged with raping a white woman in the 1930s, "our courts have their faults, as does any human constitution, but in this country or courts are the great levellers, and in our courts all men are created equal." What stays with you about his speech and about To Kill a Mockingbird in general is that Atticus doesn't actually believe his own words. Despite his clear innocence, Tom Robinson will be convicted. He is shot dead when he tries to escape from the injustice of his detention. The book includes a second murder for which the responsible party is pardoned. Scout, Atticus' young daughter and the book's narrator, tells Tom's story through the innocence of childhood, revealing the power and weight of hate and discrimination. At heart, To Kill a Mockingbird is a book about justice: what is it? Who gets to decide? And what does it mean to do the right thing? Almost a century later, we're no closer to the ideal Atticus describes, and we must continue to ask ourselves the same questions.
The Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling
A classic tale of good versus evil where good prevails, but it shows the importance of smarts, dedication, hard work, and a loyal and loving community to endure the struggle.
Brenna Holland - Communications Associate
Evicted by Matthew Desmond
Home is at the center of Matthew Desmond’s heartbreaking and revolutionary work. The ethnography follows eight families struggling to pay rent, avoid eviction, and find permanent housing in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. What struck me about this text was the sense of accompaniment and empathy. Desmond’s prose moves the reader to walk alongside the people enduring the trauma of eviction. There is no judgment, only a deep sense of urgency to care for others. Evicted was last year’s recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award.
Remy Linback - Digitization Fellow + Graphic Designer
Saving Capitalism by Robert Reich
In Saving Capitalism, Reich outlines a brief history of capitalism in America, and explains why the current capitalist framework is failing for most Americans. This book elucidates many of the linkages between politics and economics, and wealth and inequality. According to Reich, today’s “free” market serves to reinforce the political power of a new class of capitalist elites, and has ceased to be truly “free” for the bottom 99%. Recommended for anyone looking for greater insight into our nation’s economic history and present!