7 Books for Stacking Your Activism Shelf

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January 21, 2020

This is the fifth in a series of guest blogs by the 2019-20 Michigan Regional Teachers of the Year. Jessyca Mathews is an 11th- and 12th-grade English teacher at Flint Carman-Ainsworth High School in the Carman-Ainsworth Community Schools.
It’s 2020, the start of a new year, and the time to create resolutions. From choosing a healthier lifestyle to finding ways to expand the mind, many are making a list of changes to enhance their lives. One way of making a resolution that you can quickly adapt to your daily schedule and one that you can expand from is by reading more and growing your library.
Issues of social injustice have been a flourishing focus in many areas of writing. To make this world a better place, make it a goal to examine multiple genres of social injustice to expand your mind and have genuine conversations. From educators decolonizing their bookshelves to your own independent reading time, making books part of your new year’s resolution plan can help your spirit grow, and change happens for the better.
If you are interested in getting started on reading sundry social justice issues for the new year, here are my lucky seven writing suggestions to kick off the year of reading:

Young Adult Literature

“The Day Tajon Got Shot” by The Teen Writers of Beacon House
A brilliant piece of 10 perspectives on African-American male Tajon, a decent kid from the neighborhood whose family has hit hard financial times and who is shot by a policeman. Written by 10 young black women who weave a story together with creative skill and beauty, this story is a perfect start for the reader to explore the issues of police brutality. It is a fantastic choice for reluctant readers and was a crowd favorite in my class.
“The Hate U Give” and “On the Come Up” by Angie Thomas @angiecthomas
One of the best things Ts can hear in class is, “This is the first time I’ve read a book that the character is like me.” Starr is a girl who lives in the projects of Garden Heights but attends a school 45 minutes away called Williamston Prep. Her story is riddled with complexities with her cultural identity and sense of belonging. Still, things become even more complicated with the witnessing of the shooting of her best friend, Khalil, by a police officer during a traffic stop. Bri of “On the Come Up” also lives in Garden Heights, but is from the other side of projects. She has a different set of struggles with discipline in school. A significant moment goes viral when Bri is harassed by security at her school, and she expresses herself with a rap song that becomes a hit for all the wrong reasons.

Angie Thomas is one of the most brilliant writers of this time, and her books need to be read by all.


“Don’t Call Us Dead” by Denez Smith @Danez_Smif
This is a poetry collection rippled with the emotional layers of black existence. From tales from those lost in the afterlife, shifting to police brutality, moving toward an understanding of  #BlackLivesMatter, this book moves the spirit of the reader to think on multiple issues of being black in today’s society.

Futuristic Fiction

“Internment” by Samira Ahmed @sam_aye_ahm
A book that demands all our attention with the current climate of the U.S., the story of young activist Layla’s survival in an internment camp with her family and friends due to religion needs to be read by all. It’s a horrifying and eye-opening view of dangers with Islamaphobia and how it divides this country versus coming to understand each culture’s differences. This futuristic tale is one that everyone must read and cheer with the boldness and unapologetic actions of activist Layla and her friends.


“The 57 Bus” by Dasha Slater @DashkaSlater
Sasha & Richard are from different worlds. Richard is black, from the inner city, and has a lighter. Sasha is a white, lives life as a suburban trans youth, and wears a skirt. One moment changes both their lives forever when the two meet on a city bus. This moment becomes national news and changes their lives forever. This book helps with an understanding of some LGBTQA issues and is a must-read for expansion of care and knowledge for those in this community.

Cultural Studies

“How to Be an Antiracist” by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi @DrIbram
My most eye-opening book of the year has restructured my way of thinking inside and outside the classroom. If you believe in the transfiguring the discourse of racial issues in our society, you must read this book. Yes, students need this read, too. There is a Twitter chat on this book in March! Join #THEBOOKCHAT for more information.
To find out more books to enjoy in 2020, make sure to follow @JessycaMathews on Twitter, and visit the following hashtags to stay focused on reading throughout this year: #THEBOOKCHAT #THETOPTEN #ClearTheAir #DisruptText #TeachingLivingPoets.
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