Bethlehem Area Public Library Offers Anti-Racist Programming

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This featured photo, “Southside Public Library,” by Ryder Griffith at Southside Proud, is licensed by CC. BY-NC 2.0.

Bethlehem Area Public Library (BAPL) is taking action on the call by the Black Lives Matter movement and The Fight 4 Black Lives to have difficult conversations about race and racism in our communities and across America. Librarian Janine Santoro of the South Side Branch of BAPL has spearheaded the design of three complementary series of workshops to address racism. Each workshop addresses how racism inflicts deep trauma on people, or how we as individuals and communities can be complicit in systemic racism. Because BAPL programming is free and easily accessible to many in the community, Janine Santoro envisions the library to be a central hub of conversation and action for Bethlehem. Continuous facilitation of the kinds of workshops outlined below may foster an ongoing conversation about racism and how Bethlehem citizens and institutions can support and enact anti-racist policy change. She emphasized that in facilitating these workshops, BAPL hopes not to simply meet the needs of the moment, but rather to incorporate a sustained dialogue about this crucial issue that impacts so many in our community. For Janine, the library is a safe space for people to have difficult conversations and to imagine structural change that will address racism into the future.

The first series of workshops focuses on the value of the literary arts for addressing racism and inspiring urgent conversations. “Black Women Writers: Past and Present” is a reading group which will explore two novels by 19th century Black women writers and the deep history of racism in the U.S. The reading group will be facilitated by Lehigh Ph.D. students Jo Grim and Shelby Carr. The group will meet four times over July and August, to discuss Hannah Craft’s The Bondwoman’s Narrative and Harriet Wilson’s Our Nig, as well as to engage with contemporary Black women writers who are addressing many of the same topics as Craft and Wilson. These texts are important to engage with because they provide deep context for the historical roots of the racism our society enables today, and they provide impactful narratives about the breadth of lived experiences of both enslaved and free Black women during the Antebellum era in the South and the North. The facilitators also particularly value these texts as an access point for contemporary discussions about anti-racism because these texts deal with the racism often unacknowledged or grappled with by self-proclaimed white allies. These texts will allow the group to delve into how well-meaning white people must grapple with their ingrained racism as they seek to aid in the anti-racist struggle. If you want to continue your own learning, celebrate Black women writers, and read important pieces of literary culture past and present, this reading group is the place to start!

The second series of workshops offered through BAPL is a four part dancing mindfulness gathering called “The Clearing: Movement toward Communities of Compassion.” This series will address racism by exploring matters of the body and soul. Meeting every Saturday from July 25th to August 15th, the dancing mindfulness gathering utilizes meditation, as well as dance, storytelling, and song, to foster caring community and allow community members to process trauma and the systemic nature of racism. 

Facilitated by Dr. Alisha Tatem, the gatherings are meant to be a space where participants can process the “clearing of the veil” or the awakening to the pervasiveness of racism that is embedded in our historical and contemporary society. With these methods, Dr. Tatem offers not only a space to process, but also to imagine ways forward to dismantling these oppressive systems and ways that compassionate systems could replace the racist ones we have. Dr. Alisha Tatem is an incredibly qualified facilitator and has extensive experience fostering relationships and attending to matters of the heart and soul. She is a graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA, where she earned her doctorate of Theology in Pastoral Care and Counseling, as well as her Masters of Divinity. She is certified as a Dancing Mindfulness facilitator, and offers these weekly gatherings through BAPL as a way for community members to discern what they are feeling, and to express these feelings in a way that begins healing. If your best method of moving forward in these conversations revolves around making sense of your thoughts and feelings, this space may be the space for you to start!

The third series offers workshops called “Dialogues on Racial Justice: An Introductory Workshop Series on Issues of Systemic Racism in the United States.” The workshops are meant to offer broad context to the current Black Lives Matter movement and the necessity for addressing racist institutions in America. The four workshops will address the construction of race and how racism is maintained, a brief overview of 400 years of oppression from slavery onwards, a historical perspective on police brutality, and finally, a discussion of equitable reform and restorative justice. These workshops are largely informative, but they are also an opportunity to engage and ask questions, and apply the learning that is offered to make sense of racism today.

The facilitator, Linda Wiggins-Chavis, is a theologian, author, and activist with a robust background of public writing and speaking on racism and social justice, as well as extensive knowledge about social justice through the lens of faith. She has published her writings about racism in The Progressive Magazine, newsday.com, and MSN.com, and has been marching and speaking with Black Lives Matter since protests in 2014 in Madison, NJ. While studying to complete her Masters in Theology, Wiggins-Chavis specifically studied the intersections between Black Liberation Theology, racism, and social justice. The combination of experience as an activist and her scholarship about these questions, makes Wiggins-Chavis an excellent facilitator for these crucial workshops offered by the Bethlehem Library. If you find that you are lost in this contemporary moment without context, want to continue learning about theories of race and racism, or want to engage in dialogue with other community members about these issues, these workshops are the place to start!

All three of these opportunities are meant to begin conversations that crucially need to be front and center in the Bethlehem community and across the U.S. Each series detailed here is designed to create safe environments for discussing urgent topics. Bring your questions, vulnerability, and openness to these spaces, and engage in what has been and still is, one of the most important realities American society must grapple with: racism. In the future, hopefully these programs lead to concrete action and institutional change across Bethlehem’s institutions. Find out about how to sign up at BAPL’s website.

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