Straight off the Shelf: To My Beloveds: Letters on Faith, Race, Loss, and Radical Hope by Jennifer Bailey

“For them, [radical] hope was and is not the same thing as optimism. It is not a feeling nor a desired future state that is the substance of our longings. Hope is the everyday practice of believing that the material conditions of the world can be better and that we have the capacity to bring about that change in the here and now.” 

For this next blog in the “Straight off the Shelf” series, I have selected a new book from our religion section entitled To My Beloveds: Letters on Faith, Race, Loss, and Radical Hope by Jennifer Bailey. Without further ado, let’s learn a bit more about the author and her first book.

Reverend Jennifer Bailey is an ordained minister and public theologian, as well as a renowned social activist who studies and speaks on the intersection of religion and public life. On top of dedicating many years to working in nonprofit organizations, she has also helped found two major institutions: (1) the Faith Matters Network, a womanist-led organization helping to provide spiritual resources to community organizers, faith leaders, and activists; and (2) the People’s Supper, which hosts thousands of dinners across the country in an effort of bringing people together to engage in constructive conversations about important issues. Additionally, Bailey has been named one of the 15 Faith Leaders to Watch by the Center for American Progress and is an Ashoka Fellow, Nathan Cummings Foundation Fellow, Aspen Ideas Scholar, On Being Fellow, and Truman Scholar.

In her debut book, Bailey presents her readers with an epistolary work exploring how hope can be found in the face of racial and social injustice, down the avenues of grief and loss, and when the “cold and slow creep of hopelessness” enters into your thoughts and mind. From the letter entitled “As She Lay Dying” written to a motherless child, to “Who Will Take Care of My Baby?” written to those contemplating suicide, to “You are Beautiful. You are Brave” to a mother with a child in her belly, this book touches on the ways in which grief, loss, and despair can be “composted” into hope, courage, and purpose through activism and leadership work. Throughout these “love letters,” Bailey touches on the three major pillars comprising the foundation of radical hope:

  • Memory as an antidote to death
  • Imagination as a pathway to resurrection
  • Living as a testament to the possibility of the present

Drawing from both scripture and the powerful words of Toni Morrison, Bailey gives her “beloved” readers the means to find radical hope in their lives, even in the midst of life’s greatest struggles, pains, and heartaches.

I hope you enjoyed learning a bit more about this new title! If it piqued your interest and/or you would like to read more about spiritual activism, here are some similar books in our library collection:

Do Better: Spiritual Activism for Fighting and Healing from White Supremacy by Rachel Ricketts

Written by spiritual activist and attorney Rachel Ricketts, this book considers the intersection of spiritual activism with racial justice and white supremacy and guides readers through how they can engage in this kind of advocacy. Here is a brief description from the publisher:

“Do Better is a revolutionary offering that addresses racial justice from a comprehensive, intersectional, and spirit-based perspective. This actionable guidebook illustrates how to engage in the heart-centered and mindfulness-based practices that will help us all fight white supremacy from the inside out, in our personal lives and communities alike. It is a loving and assertive call to do the deep—and often uncomfortable—inner work that precipitates much-needed external and global change.”

Reparations: A Christian Call for Repentance and Repair by Duke Kwon and Gregory Thompson

Written by an evangelical pastor and the executive director of Voices Underground, an organization dedicated to preserving the historical truth of America’s racial history, this title considers how white churches can and should respond to racial injustice, as well as how reparations can start being made. Here is a brief description provided by the publisher:

“A compelling theological and historical case for the American Christian church’s responsibility to repair its racial rift with Black brothers and sisters. Kwon and Thompson examine attitudes of white supremacy, bring to bear the Bible’s teachings on repentance and restitution, and present concrete and creative ways to make reparation at the local level.”

White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity by Robert P. Jones

Author of The End of White Christian America, Robert P. Jones takes a deep look at the manifestations of white supremacy throughout the history of several sects within the Christian church and considers their complicity in racial injustice. Here is a brief description provided by the publisher:

“As the nation grapples with demographic changes and the legacy of racism in America, Christianity’s role as a cornerstone of white supremacy has been largely overlooked. But white Christians from evangelicals in the South to mainline Protestants in the Midwest and Catholics in the Northeast have not just been complacent or complicit; rather, as the dominant cultural power, they have constructed and sustained a project of protecting white supremacy and opposing black equality that has framed the entire American story.

With his family’s 1815 Bible in one hand and contemporary public opinion surveys by Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) in the other, Robert P. Jones delivers a groundbreaking analysis of the repressed history of the symbiotic relationship between Christianity and white supremacy. White Too Long demonstrates how deeply racist attitudes have become embedded in the DNA of white Christian identity over time and calls for an honest reckoning with a complicated, painful, and even shameful past. Jones challenges white Christians to acknowledge that public apologies are not enough accepting responsibility for the past requires work toward repair in the present.

White Too Long is not an appeal to altruism. Drawing on lessons gleaned from case studies of communities beginning to face these challenges, Jones argues that contemporary white Christians must confront these unsettling truths because this is the only way to salvage the integrity of their faith and their own identities. More broadly, it is no exaggeration to say that not just the future of white Christianity but the outcome of the American experiment is at stake.”

Straight off the Shelf: Demystifying Disability by Emily Ladau

“If the disability community wants a world that’s accessible to us, then we must make ideas and experiences of disability accessible to the world.”

I hope all of our dedicated readers are well as the days get crisper, the nights grow longer, and the holidays come upon us! I am excited to start a new blog series titled “Straight off the Shelf,” in which I will feature a nonfiction book straight from our new shelves here at the library and pair it up with similar titles in our collection. This first selection comes from our social sciences section and is titled Demystifying Disability: What to Know, What to Say, and How to be an Ally  by Emily Ladau.

First, a little bit of background about the author. A disability rights activist, writer, and speaker, Emily Ladau began her activism at just the young age of ten when she starred on Sesame Street to teach children about what it is like to live with a physical disability. She continues her advocacy today by providing consulting and editorial services to several disability-focused organizations, as well as by managing a blog (Rooted in Rights) focused on sharing and amplifying disability experiences and co-hosting a podcast (The Accessible Stall) that considers important issues within the disability community. She has also received several honors, including being named a “10 Under 10 Young Alumni” at her alma matter of Adelphi University and being selected as the recipient of the American Association of People With Disabilities’ Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award in 2018.

In Ladau’s words, “[a]ll of my activism is driven by my belief that it is by sharing our stories and making the disability experience accessible to the world that we will reach a world that is accessible to the disability community.” One of the very first statistics presented in this book is that an estimated 15% of the global population, or more than one billion people, lives with a disability, making up the world’s largest minority. With this in mind, Ladau describes this book as a 101 guide or handbook for anyone and everyone looking to better understand various aspects of disability, as well as how to become a stronger ally and advocate. Broken down into six primary parts, it delves into what a disability actually is, how to understand disability as part of a whole person, an overview of disability history, ableism and accessibility,  disability etiquette, and how disability is portrayed in the media. Ladau also includes several additional resources for further reading, including books, films, online videos, and hashtags to follow on social media; a complete list of resources from this title can also be found here: https://emilyladau.com/demystifying-disability-bibliography/

I hope you enjoyed learning a bit more about this new title! If it piqued your interest and/or you would like to continue demystifying disability, here are some similar books housed in our library collection:

About Us: Essays for the Disability Series of the New York Times edited by Peter Catapano

This title compiles several significant and powerful essays and reflections that have been featured in a column entitled “Disability” in the New York Times since its inception in 2016. Here is a brief description from the publisher:

“Boldly claiming a space where people with disabilities tell the stories of their own lives―not other’s stories about them―About Us captures the voices of a community that has for too long been stereotyped and misrepresented. Speaking not only to people with disabilities and their support networks, but to all of us, the authors in About Us offer intimate stories of how they navigate a world not built for them. Echoing the refrain of the disability rights movement, ‘nothing about us without us,’ this collection, with a foreword by Andrew Solomon, is a landmark publication of the disability movement for readers of all backgrounds, communities, and abilities.”

I Live a Life Like Yours: A Memoir by Jan Grue

This memoir provides a searing and insightful look into what it is like to live with a disability and the journey of coming to accept the limitations a disability poses while also loving life. Here is a brief description from the publisher:

“Jan Grue was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy at the age of three. Shifting between specific periods of his life—his youth with his parents and sister in Norway; his years of study in Berkeley, St. Petersburg, and Amsterdam; and his current life as a professor, husband, and father—he intersperses these histories with elegant, astonishingly wise reflections on the world, social structures, disability, loss, relationships, and the body: in short, on what it means to be human. Along the way, Grue moves effortlessly between his own story and those of others, incorporating reflections on philosophy, film, art, and the work of writers from Joan Didion to Michael Foucault. He revives the cold, clinical language of his childhood, drawing from a stack of medical records that first forced the boy who thought of himself as “just Jan” to perceive that his body, and therefore his self, was defined by its defects.

I Live a Life Like Yours is a love story. It is rich with loss, sorrow, and joy, and with the details of one life: a girlfriend pushing Grue through the airport and forgetting him next to the baggage claim; schoolmates forming a chain behind his wheelchair on the ice one winter day; his parents writing desperate letters in search of proper treatment for their son; his own young son climbing into his lap as he sits in his wheelchair, only to leap down and run away too quickly to catch. It is a story about accepting one’s own body and limitations, and learning to love life as it is while remaining open to hope and discovery.”

Being Seen: One Deafblind Woman’s Fight to End Ableism by Elsa Sjunneson

This autobiography provides an acute analysis on living with a disability in an ableist world and considers how ableism is deeply embedded in our culture. Here is a brief description from the publisher:

“As a Deafblind woman with partial vision in one eye and bilateral hearing aids, Elsa Sjunneson lives at the crossroads of blindness and sight, hearing and deafness—much to the confusion of the world around her. While she cannot see well enough to operate without a guide dog or cane, she can see enough to know when someone is reacting to the visible signs of her blindness and can hear when they’re whispering behind her back. And she certainly knows how wrong our one-size-fits-all definitions of disability can be.

As a media studies professor, she’s also seen the full range of blind and deaf portrayals on film, and here she deconstructs their impact, following common tropes through horror, romance, and everything in between. Part memoir, part cultural criticism, part history of the Deafblind experience, Being Seen explores how our cultural concept of disability is more myth than fact, and the damage it does to us all.”

All In: An Autobiography by Billie Jean King

“Champions adjust. Champions are masters at being resilient. To succeed, you have to find a way to reconcile everything – chasing goals, believing you will succeed but absorbing failure, and the loneliness of knowing that no one can help you on the court but you.” 

“Two of the unchanging, overarching lessons of my life are that people’s existence is rarely improved by sitting still in the face of injustice, and that the human spirit should never be underestimated. The human spirit can’t be caged.”

As an avid tennis fan and player, I was thrilled when I read that Billie Jean King (BJK) was coming out with an autobiography. While I knew she was a groundbreaking tennis player in her day, especially renowned for her historical “Battle of the Sexes” match in 1973, I honestly didn’t know much else about her. With that said, let’s delve right into All In: An Autobiography. 

Published in August, this memoir gives readers a deep and comprehensive look into BJK’s life story. Born in Long Beach, California, her first encounter with tennis was in the fifth grade when a friend convinced her to attend a lesson with her. After her first few experiences playing, BJK dedicated herself to the sport and quickly set out to win Wimbledon (a Grand Slam tournament played in London) and become the #1-ranked player in the world. After undergoing intense training and an excruciating schedule of play for many years, BJK would come to accomplish much more than that; some of her career highlights include capturing 39 Grand Slam tennis titles and 20 career victories at Wimbledon, as well as winning the famous “Battle of the Sexes” match and holding the world #1 ranking in women’s tennis for six years.

While it was fascinating to read about what it took to become a champion on the court, I was dismayed to learn about all of the barriers she endured on her way to becoming the best in the sport. One incredibly significant barrier was the entrenched sexism present in the sports world at the time, BJK illustrating a vivid picture of just how different it was to be a female athlete in the mid-20th century compared to now. She was first barred from advancing beyond an amateur player (meaning she was not paid for playing) since being a professional athlete was not an acceptable profession for women. After breaking that glass ceiling and turning pro, she found herself in yet another uphill battle in which tournaments refused to pay women the same earnings/winnings as men.

She was also constantly barraged with society’s stereotypical expectations of women, always having to answer to when she would give up her fling with tennis to settle down and start a family, why she thought the world would want to watch female athletes, and how she had the nerve to take away money from the true breadwinners. These expectations didn’t even spare her at the very beginning of her young career; one particularly scarring memory involved being pulled out of a picture at one of the tennis clubs where she practiced because she was wearing shorts instead of a skirt or dress. On top of all of this, BJK also struggled with an eating disorder and her sexuality later on in her professional life, especially having to keep the latter secret in fear of losing everything she had worked so hard to achieve.

Despite all of the aforementioned struggles, BJK not only excelled in tennis, but also used her platform to make huge strides in several social justice issues off the court. She founded several initiatives and organizations to support and advocate for women’s rights, including the Women’s Tennis Association and the Women’s Sports Foundation; established World TeamTennis, a professional tennis league in which men and women compete together on a team; and advocated for the passing of Title IX in 1972. She also set up the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative, a nonprofit organization working to achieve diverse and equitable leadership in the workforce. She has and continues to engage in every opportunity she can to pave the way for all of the women who have and will continue to come after her; it is no wonder that she became the first female athlete to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by former President Barack Obama in 2009.

Overall, this autobiography is one of the most inspiring accounts I have ever read. I led this post with two quotes because expressing just half of BJK’s influence on the world wouldn’t do this book or her legacy justice; she is not only a champion of tennis, but also a champion of social justice and equal rights. She has been a trailblazer for women’s rights, not only throughout the sports world, but also across society and the world at large. She is still fighting for social justice today, especially for women’s and LGBTQ+ rights, and one of the greatest values she abides by is ensuring that tennis, sports, and the world are inclusive and accessible for everyone. I cannot recommend this book highly enough!

This book is also available in the following formats:

Large Print

In addition to this book, I would also check out the 2017 motion picture Battle of the Sexes, featuring Emma Stone as BJK and Steve Carell as Bobby Riggs (her opponent). This match was one of the most widely watched sporting events of all time, with an estimated 90 million people having tuned in to watch on primetime television.