Washtenaw Reads 2024 Highlights “How the Word is Passed”

Every year the Washtenaw Reads program brings together people from many different libraries and parts of the county to collectively decide on, read and discuss an impactful book. This year, “How the Word is Passed” by Clint Smith will serve as a catalyst for change nationally but also locally. 

Sara Wedell serves as the collections manager at the Ann Arbor District Library (AADL) and coordinates the Washtenaw Reads program. The inter-county partnership includes AADL as well as the Ypsilanti, Saline, Milan, Chelsea and Dexter District Libraries. This is Wedell’s fifth year supporting this program, working to serve thousands of local residents.

“The goal of the Washtenaw Reads Program is to start a conversation and to focus the interest and the input of the community,” Wedell said. “We are a spread-out community with a lot of different viewpoints and it is really great to have insights from all the different participants to get a conversation going.”

“How the Word is Passed” focuses on the history and present impact of slavery in the United States, focusing on monuments and landmarks to tell the story of “how slavery has been central in shaping our nations collective history, and ourselves,” according to the AADL website.

All events are free to the public and AADL members can check out one of the over 100 physical copies of “How the Word is Passed” through the library or online through Libby.

Every library within the Washtenaw Reads program organizes events for its local community. At AADL, this includes a keynote presented by Ashley Rogers, the Director of Whitney Plantation, on April 14, and an event in partnership with Justice InDeed, on April 3. Whitney Plantation is one of the sites visited and written about in “How the Word is Passed.” 

“Ashley is going to come and give a talk about interpreting history and the responsibility of honestly expressing the legacy of difficult history and what that responsibility looks like both looking backward and going forward,” Wedell said. “This is a book that has a little broader reach because this is talking about the importance of history in a way that […] [has] many avenues into this discussion.” 

Justice InDeed is a local collaborative project working to decrease racially restrictive covenants in the Ann Arbor area. Their event at the Downtown Library will involve local community members in transcribing records to uncover race-related covenants. Anyone interested is encouraged to attend, no experience is necessary. 

“There is momentum toward booking at your local history and situations and doing what we can to address them,” Wedell said. “It is a great confluence that we’re able to that and it has just been continued partnership with Justice InDeed and the university [of Michigan] to talk about their progress and that so happens we can line up in this way. I think it is people doing good work.” 

Ann Arbor was found to be the eighth most overall economically segregated metro in the United States. Although these racially restrictive covenants are no longer legal, spreading information and working to dismantle these systems is work that continues on through the Washtenaw Reads program this year and from organizations such as Justice InDeed. 

“What we want to do by bringing it to our community, by tying it to local efforts such as Justice Indeed is to show that history happens everywhere, injustice happens everywhere, systemic racism happens everywhere,” Wedell said. “‘How the Word is Passed’ is a very meaningful example of extreme situations where history and systemic inequality and racism have taken place but that does not mean that there are not solutions from similar situations closer to home.” 

Learn more about Washtenaw Reads program, “How the Word is Passed,” Whitney Plantation and Justice InDeed. Attend the Keynote on April 14 at 3 p.m. and the Community Transcription event with Justice InDeed on April 3 at 5:30 p.m.

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