Progress is a Process – The Norfolk Public Library’s Antiracist Discussion Group
By Brendan Zimmerman
Last summer brought social unease and a long-awaited reckoning on racial injustice. Protests broke out across the country in response, and a new national conversation was born.
In the protests’ aftermath, antiracism has become a more prominent, necessary topic of discussion – which led to an idea for a local group discussion series about antiracism, offering residents an opportunity to learn more about the topic.
The Norfolk Public Library has been virtually hosting this series, which is titled “Watch. Read. Listen. Engage. How to Become an Antiracist Discussion Series.”
For each meeting, the group gathers together remotely on Zoom for an open discussion. Prior to meetings, attendees are expected to have read, watched, or listened to the required materials for that day’s discussion.
The group is led by Suzanne Reynolds-Alpert and Tamara Dalton, both Technical Services Librarians at the Norfolk Public Library. They hope to encourage open conversation, as well as give residents a space to learn about and discuss issues relating to racial injustice and antiracism.
“I think the protests did help inspire this offering,” said Reynolds-Alpert. “We both know many people in and around town who felt impotent about their ability to do anything concrete about racial injustice.”
The discussion group was then created to help residents interested in learning more. For the series’ curriculum, the group leaders decided to use a variety of sources including books, articles, podcasts and films. This approach allows for a greater range of material, and for a more varied exposure to the many resources regarding the topic.
The meetings are bolstered by the powerful media sources selected as the preparation material for each meeting. Some of the media included in the discussion series so far include “Just Mercy,” a film adaption of Bryan Stevenson’s moving book, Ibram X. Kendi’s influential book “How to Be an Antiracist,” and Ava Duvernay’s eye-opening Netflix documentary, “13th.”
For the upcoming April meeting, the chosen discussion topic will be on an episode from NPR’s podcast series, “Code Switch.”
The library rents outs copies of the films and books in the series for interested attendees. For the selected books, attendees can also utilize Libby, an app that lets users rent eBooks from the library.
Both Reynolds-Alpert and Dalton want interested attendees to know that the meetings are not lectures, but rather an interactive, open discussion for all participating. They hope to lead with thought-provoking questions while allowing for conversation to naturally arise. Attendees are encouraged to ask their own questions and to actively participate in these dialogues.
Even though the discussion series is underway, anyone interested in joining can still sign up through the Norfolk Public Library’s website as new members are welcome. The group will be meeting again on April 14 and May 12, take a break over the summer, and then resume again in the fall.
“Our perspective has always been that becoming an antiracist is a process – something to continually work on,” said Reynolds-Alpert. “We learn as much from the participants as they learn from us. It’s very much a group dynamic.”