Book in my lap

How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith

I picked up this book thanks to a gift card to a local bookstore that my church gave me for serving on a committee for six years. A fitting book topic as Westminster Presbyterian Church has actively sought to better understand racism and racial constructs in community together over the past several years, and how we as individuals of faith must address it. While I saw the awards earned on the cover, it was an item on the back cover that confirmed this book selection. The author graduated from Davidson College, where my father, uncle, and cousin graduated—and another uncle graduated from and became Director Emeritus of the college library.  

This is a must read book along with Caste as I think they both help to educate white folks struggling to understand, process, and address the systemic nature of racism in the United States … and both do so gently with facts and stories that gracefully and at times shockingly reframe what we thought we knew. Clint’s book showed me just how much of our past is written, taught, and shared through gapped-filled nostalgia rather than facts. He also elevated the impact of unspoken truths: an unhealthy country.

His book is a tour of key historical locations and conversations he had there. Some places I’d visited and seen very differently years ago and others new to me which I questioned how the hell did I knot know about them – especially having grown up in the south near them. The memories his grandparents shared in the Epilogue put a much needed current face to the historic locations and stories he shared.

After visiting Blandford Cemetery, which I’d never heard of, he wrote, “I am left wondering if we are all just patchworks of the stories we’ve been told. What would it take – what does it take – for you to confront a false history even if it means shattering the stories you have been told throughout your life? Even if it means having to fundamentally re-examine who you are and who your family has been? Just because something is difficult to accept doesn’t mean you should refuse to accept it. Just because someone tells you a story doesn’t make the story true.”

The book shows how vulnerable we are to gap-filled history, sentimentality, and untaught facts. “This history of slavery is the history of the United States. It was not peripheral to our founding; it was central to it. It is not irrelevant to our contemporary society; it created it. This history is in our soil, it’s in our policies, and it must, too, be in our memories.”

One phrase, “there was history, but also silence,” stopped my reading. I think so many of us are silent due to fear, awkwardness, and ignorance. We need to have brave conversations. To seek to understand, listen to learn, and grow in awareness. Only then can our history be addressed together in community for healing and progress for all.

The Courage to Be Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga      

While the title might make you bristle the content will help you truly connect. Connect to others through service. Connect to happiness through contribution. Connect to life through courage. The book, which lays out the concepts of Adlerian psychology, is a conversation between an old philosopher and a young man. Through their discussion real life examples bring simple yet complex concepts to life. There is a lot to absorb and process in the book as much of it feels counter to today’s live big, climb the ladder, influencer driven society. The concepts are so simple, bold, and comforting. Comforting in that they are doable and come from within—we decide, we take action. The book also reframed the perspective that life happens to us—this was my past, so I’m stuck with it. The power it instills in a person is refreshing. A few quotes that caught my attention:

  • We are not living our lives to satisfy others
  • Be in use to others
  • Happiness is the feeling of contribution  
  • The courage to be normal
  • Life is a series of moments, each called now
  • Live earnestly here and now
  • You are the only one who can assign meaning to your life
  • As long as you are dancing you will get somewhere

I recommend this book if you’re stuck in the past, feeling ground down by others, need a re-set, got lost along your journey, want to be more authentic in your life, or seek a better now. Why? Because, as the author wrote, “The life that lies ahead of you is a complete blank page and there are no tracks laid for you to follow—there is no story there.”

The Memo by Minda Harts

The Memo caught my eye on LinkedIn when I saw a photo of two older white men in a diner, each holding a copy of one of Mindy’s two books. The arrived with curiosity and left as allies, or as Mindy suggests (and I love), “success partners” for brown and black women in the workplace. Reading this book via Audible made it more personal. It wasn’t just an informative book, but a personal “here’s how you do it” exchange with data, revealing stories, and practical techniques. All brought to life with razer sharp song lyrics to sear in the knowledge and vibe. Candidly, I already knew, do, and share her tips about how to get in and then move to the table. But reading it, had me question, “how did I ‘automatically’ know these things (e.g., office politics, networking, “squad” of experts and allies, executive communications, negotiating)?” and “How can I be even more intentional to this with my work community?” Another poignant part of the book is the fragmentation of brown and black women from “women” in research, and especially the pay gap. I know words matter, and “women make X% less than male counterparts” is not a single data point. Minda brough home for me how we need to use the full spectrum of financial pay discrepancies and not the white female number. I encourage any young professional to read this book as it’s 100% on point—she lays out, in clear actionable ways, the steps to the unspoken corporate advancement playbook. To my white peers in management, please read this book to understand. Because as Maya Angelo said, “when you know better you can do better.”

Boundaries for Leaders by Henry Cloud

I enjoyed listening to this book as Henry’s enthusiastic read was motivational, but I also wish I had a hard copy to mark up and reference. It will be a go-to recommendation for me when folks ask, “what books do you recommend.” The title to me is a bit misleading in the sense of how I’ve traditionally thought about boundaries… but the book offers a fresh, 360 degree look at boundaries. Boundaries on how you think, address issues, develop teams, stay focused, and more. The books laid out a easy to digest format:  here is something that greatly impacts a leader’s impact or outcomes, here is why it’s important to focus on, here are common pitfalls, and here is a way to do it better and set up a boundary to not fall into unproductive habits or common traps—plus a real life story to help anchor it. A core phrase I walk away with is, “you’re ridiculously in charge.” Something so simple and so powerful. I think we forget as individuals just how much control we have in a system and solving for an issue. A few other nuggets that I texted to myself while walking and listening are:

  • Concentrate on what you can control and watch out for yours and other’s pessimistic thinking – it’s all about optimism
  • Be more intentional about team meetings to get more strategic and bottom line value out of them – stop the rote round robin status meetings!
  • Culture is essential, especially one grounded in trust
  • Be clear on your focus areas and accountability
  • Attend to what is vital and conduct a “time audit” to see if you are in fact spending the most time that
  • Get real about how much you lead yourself or are led by others
  • Nothing can happen without a high-performing team
  • Lead in a way that creates greatness in others
  • You create what you allow.

Happy reading.

Books – August 2023

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