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Circle Reads - Between the World and Me

Thursday, June 23, 2016 | bwgc

Fifty-three members gathered on the evening of May 5 to discuss Ta-Nehisi Coates’s recent memoir, Between the World and Me.  Described by Toni Morrison as“required reading” for all Americans, the book has garnered considerable critical attention, winning the 2015 National Book Award for Non-Fiction and a place on the NY Times best seller list for over forty weeks.  It led to a MacArthur Fellowship for the author, a Baltimore native.   We chose this book because of our need for a greater understanding of the lives of young black men in Baltimore in the wake of the unrest in spring 2015. 

Written as a letter to his teenage son, Between the World and Me is a provocative and painful read, and it stimulated intense and heart-felt conversation.  After our short social time, we divided into small discussion groups, using guide questions as a stimulus for our engagement with the memoir.  We then convened as a large group to reflect on the impact of the work upon our understanding of the fear and insecurity that surround our black communities.  One reader described reading the book as a “game changer” in her understanding of Baltimore’s problems. 

Our evening concluded with remarks by Bronwyn Mayden, Assistant Dean of the University of Maryland’s School of Social Work and Executive Director of the Promise Heights Initiative, an initiative the BWGC has supported.  She concluded her remarks with a poem A Prayer For Children by Ina Hughes, that reminded us all of the inequality in the lives of Baltimore’s children and our need to make a difference. 

A Prayer for Children

We pray for children
who sneak popsicles for supper,
who erase holes in math workbooks,
who can never find their shoes.
And we pray for those
who stare at photographers from behind barbed wire,
who can't bound down the street in a new pair of sneakers,
who never "counted potatoes,”
who are born in places we wouldn't be caught dead,
who never go to the circus,
who live in an X-rated world.

We pray for children
who bring us sticky kisses and fistfuls of dandelions,
who hug us in a hurry and forget their lunch money.
And pray for those
who never get dessert,
who have no safe blanket to drag behind them,
who watch their parents watch them die,
who can't find any bread to steal,
who don't have any rooms to clean up,
whose pictures aren't on anybody's dresser,
whose monsters are real.

We pray for children
who spend all their allowance before Tuesday,
who throw tantrums in the grocery store and pick at their food,
who like ghost stories,
who shove dirty clothes under the bed, and never rise out the tub,
who get visits from the tooth fairy,
who don't like to be kissed in front of the carpool,
who squirm in church or temple and scream in the phone,
whose tears we sometimes laugh at and whose smiles can make us cry.
And we pray for those
whose nightmares come in the daytime,
who will eat anything,
who have never seen a dentist,
who aren't spoiled by anybody,
who go to bed hungry and cry themselves to sleep,
who live and move, but have no being.

We pray for the children who want to be carried,
and for those who must,
for those we never give up on and for those
who don't get a second chance.
For those we smother….and for those who will grab
the hand of anybody kind enough to offer it.

Please offer your hands to them so that no child is left
behind because we did not act.

Ina Hughes