The Evanston Public Library is hoping that one book can bring the community closer together. Activities (schedule ) will take place throughout February and March and include book discussions, lectures, storytelling, and integrated arts programs across Evanston. The Library encourages everyone to participate.
The Other Wes Moore; One Name, Two Fates tells the story of two African-American boys, both named Wes Moore, who grow up a few blocks from each other in Baltimore. Both boys lose their fathers at a young age and have close family members or friends who sell drugs. However, one of the boys becomes a Rhodes Scholar, and the other ends up in prison. The book, written by Rhodes Scholar Wes Moore, follows Moore as he reaches out to meet his counterpart in prison and tries to untangle the small details in their family relationships and educational opportunities that created these distinct paths.
A commitment to working toward racial equity
“We chose this book because the library is committed to working with our partners toward racial equity in Evanston,” said Heather Norborg, EPL Librarian. The book has an edition, Discovering Wes Moore, which is adapted for young adult audiences so that the program can also extend to younger readers. Young Adult Services Librarian Renee Neumeier said that she hopes this book choice inspires “more safe spaces for discussions of race and equality in Evanston.” Classes and book groups at both ETHS and several middle schools in Evanston will be incorporating the book into their curriculum and Y.O.U. will use it in after school programming.
“I’m hoping these programs will bring people together who have never talked with each other about how race, poverty and diminished opportunities affect them, and affect Evanston,” said Lesley Williams, Head of Adult Services. “African Americans and other marginalized people often feel frustrated at constantly having to explain their experience to others. With a book discussion, the author does the explaining, and then gives the readers a chance to react. People feel less exposed.”
Neumeier added, “Middle school and high school students are very insightful about issues surrounding race, equity and social justice. I hope the community listens to them with open ears. They can be wonderfully blunt and honest and sometimes can say things that adults are afraid to say.”
Book discussions, art projects, storytelling, and documentaries
The book will be widely available—most will not require checking out with a library card—at each of the three library locations, as well as on library bookshelves around town and at the Evanston Reads partner organizations. The Evanston Art Center will host a self-portrait workshop inspired by the autobiographical style of the text, and conduct a zine-making workshop and two mural workshops.
Some of the events Williams is most looking forward to include the film screening of “Just Another Girl on the I.R.T.”, about a pregnant teenager in Brooklyn and lectures by scholars from Northwestern’s Alice Kaplan Humanities program. Norborg looks forward to a screening of Ava DuVernay’s “13th”, a film about race and the American criminal justice system.
Discussions of the book will happen all over town. These will be at the Levy Center, Fleetwood-Jourdain, Evanston History Center, Ridgeville Park, the Veterans Center, the Evanston Art Center, and the Gibbs-Morrison Cultural Center, as well as at the Library. Neighborhood Services librarian Connie Heneghan will facilitate a special joint discussion between the Foster Senior Club and the St. Athanasius church group.
The conversations the Library hopes to encourage in the community are far-reaching. Evanston Reads includes StoryCorps, an organization whose mission is “to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.” On February 4, StoryCorps members will be at the Main Library to record interviews between pairs of people who know each other well. Depending on the wishes of the participants, these stories may be archived in the Smithsonian Museum, on EPL’s website, or edited to be played on NPR. Norborg plans to encourage the participation of African-American residents in Evanston. She asks that people interested in having their stories recorded contact her.
Library staff members and others will be trained with recording kits so that they can record more stories on their own. These facilitators will be able to go out into the community and record at various Evanston Reads events, partner organizations, and at the homes of people who are non-mobile.
Williams explained, “This program is for all of Evanston, and we want to give everyone in town as many places and spaces and ways to get involved as possible. The question of how to include young people from all backgrounds in the American Dream is of critical importance to all citizens.”