As I have written frequently, I live in (more than) a couple of different worlds. I read, and present synopses of business books. But I also speak monthly at the Urban Engagement Book Club for CitySquare. I present synopses of books dealing with social justice, racism, poverty – issues of human need.
Sometimes, I feel a little whiplash…
This month, after lunch today, I will have presented two books for two different Urban Engagement Book Club sessions. On the first Thursday of the month, I presented my synopsis of the book Lifeblood: How to Change the World One Dead Mosquito at a Time by Alex Perry. It had a very real parallel to a section in Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think by David Diamandis (which I presented at the July First Friday Book Synopsis). Abundance profiles some technophilanthropists. And Lifeblood focused a great deal on the work of Ray Chambers. Maybe not a “technophilanthropist,” but certainly a wealthy philanthropist who made/is making a whopping difference. He served as the first ever UN Special Envoy for Malaria. His goal was to get rid of malaria in the poorest countries of Africa. Here’s a quote from the book:
“Perfection is the enemy of good,” he said. “Will we cover every single person with a bed net? Honestly, I doubt it. Will we have a bigger impact than any other campaign ever? Yes, I think we will. You set lofty goals, and if you get 90 percent, that’s a great achievement, and you focus on getting the remaining 10 percent done as quickly as you can.”
Today, I am presenting my synopsis of the book Big Citizenship: How Pragmatic Idealism Can Bring Out the Best in America by Alan Khazei. Mr. Khanzei is the founder of City Year, which ultimately played the pivotal role in the establishment of AmeriCorps. The book is filled with great stories, but it boils down to this:
What is the problem, and how do we tackle solving it?
I will say this today:
In fact: all solutions boil down to Individual, Face-to-face, Compassionate, Competent, Attention.
Here are a couple of key quotes from this book:
Big Citizens are not household names. They are not the elected officials or prominent leaders. They are regular, good hearted people blessed with a loving heart and an open mind. Anyone can be a Big Citizen and join with others in common purpose. You just need to listen to that voice inside that says: “I, too, want to be part of making my neighborhood, my school, my community, my country, my world, a better place for all of us.”
At times of great crisis, we often want to find that one great leader to bring us to a better day, but what we need to recognize is that throughout our history, it has been the willingness of regular people looking in the mirror and committing to causes larger than themselves that has been the key to making progress. At the end of the day, it is up to all of us.
And he includes this famous quote from Robert Kennedy:
“It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is thus shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
In Dallas, Larry James, Gerald Britt, and the full team at CitySquare work with dogged determination to meet human need, to help people establish a more solid foundation; they actually find homes for homeless people… the list of ways they tackle human need is long, and impressive. And Gerald Britt works tirelessly on public policy issues (payday lending is one of his recent targets – payday lending is an absolute drain on people in poverty).
I encourage you to add a social justice/poverty book to your reading stack. There are many good ones. If you ask me where to start, my current “best suggestion” is The Working Poor by David Shipler. But, it almost does not matter – read any book that helps you see, and remember, the very real human needs of others. And then, do something about it! (CtySquare is a pretty good place to start).
And in you are in the DFW area, I invite you to come join us at the Urban Engagement Book Club. We meet twice a month. Check it out.
Nothing sickens me more than the closed door of a library. – Barbara Tuchman
The only true equalisers in the world are books; the only treasure-house open to all comers is a library; the only wealth which will not decay is knowledge… – J. A. Langford
I present book synopses monthly (now twice a month, in two locations) for the Urban Engagement Book Club, sponsored by Central Dallas Ministries. The Rev. Gerald Britt Jr., their Vice President for Public Policy, is a thoughtful, substantive thought-leader. He has an op-ed column in the Dallas Morning News on the crisis facing municipal governments, specifically Dallas, because of budget cuts. Here’s the paragraph that should evoke a little sadness, and maybe some fear, in book lovers everywhere.
The cuts in library services are particularly illustrative. This budget has plummeted from $28 million in the 2008-2009 budget to a proposed $13 million next fiscal year. The projected loss of personnel threatens services such as fewer new books and fewer staff to shelve and organize materials.
I spend hundreds of dollars a year on books. I have to “mark them up,” and give many of “my copies” away at our events (I can’t begin to tell you how much I hate to give away these books!), so I can’t use the library for these particular books. (And a few folks give me many books – for this I am deeply grateful). But I check out some books just to read from the Eastfield College Library (where I teach), and I have many fond memories of reading library books over the decades of my life, from Jacksonville, Florida to Harlingen, Texas, to Long Beach and Los Angeles, California, to Dallas, Texas. And I could not begin to tell you the number of books I have read that I never had to purchase.
But books are just the beginning. In these tight economic times, many people use the library to help with their job search. One library director in Central Oklahoma described this new phenomenon: people come sit in the parking lot of the library, and open their laptops in their cars to access the internet connections available through the library.
In other words, for a literate society, for a society that values learning, library cuts are more than just an inconvenience. The public library provides essential tools for personal improvement, providing tangible help for needed job skills, countless programs to help our youngest neighbors learn to read and then cultivate a love of reading, and so much more.
We all need to help get this economy humming along a little better. For a lot of reasons. But one really important reason is this: we’ve got to restore those funds to the library! A library with little money for books and staff (and, shorter hours of availability), is a genuinely serious problem.
Perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library. The only entrance requirement is interest. – Lady Bird Johnson