Book With Purpose: Winston-Salem nonprofit sparks conversations on race with summer-long program

This summer across Winston-Salem — in homes and workplaces, coffee shops and community centers — people of all ages will share a common experience centered around a common theme: They’ll be reading books about anti-racism. And hopefully, according to leaders with the nonprofit Bookmarks, readers will take the next step and discuss those books, too.

The program, called Book With Purpose, is an initiative to get everyone in the city reading the same books. Launched on May 14, the read-in is meant to be a starting point for adults and children to learn about and discuss anti-racism, according to Jamie Rogers Southern, executive director of Bookmarks.

“We can’t just say we’re not racist. We have to be anti-racist,” she says. “It’s more of a daily commitment that you personally take to fight racism.”

Southern became executive director in April, but she’s not new to Bookmarks. After serving as operations manager for nine years, she became interim executive director in October before taking on the role permanently. Founded in 2004, Bookmarks promotes a love of reading among children through community-wide projects and its independent bookstore in downtown Winston-Salem.

For Book With Purpose, Southern and other leaders decided to include adults to spark even more conversations about the topic. The program features books written by Ibram X. Kendi, director of the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University. Adults will read “Stamped from the Beginning,” which won the National Book Award for nonfiction in 2016. The childrens’ readings are age-appropriate versions of “Stamped.”

  • For ages 12 and older: “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You,” co-authored by Jason Reynolds
  • For ages 6 to 10: “Stamped (For Kids),” co-authored by Reynolds
  • For preschool ages: “Antiracist Baby,” a board and picture book illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky

The idea for Book With Purpose came about, in part, from events during the summer of 2020, when the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and other victims of police shootings sparked national protests — and a national dialogue. Equity and inclusion had always been tenants of Bookmarks, but according to Southern, the nonprofit has made an additional commitment to be an anti-racist organization, which means being proactive.

“We’re at a pivotal point in history coming out of the roughest year in living memory,” she says. “There’s a real desire for us to not return to the way things were, to learn from this past year and to grow from that. People want to find connection and find community. We’re pulling all of those things together.”

Bookmarks is donating 3,500 copies of the books through the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools. More than two dozen community partners, including arts groups and other nonprofit organizations, have committed to incorporating the books’ themes in their summer programming “to reach people in their comfort zones,” says Southern. In addition, 15 community book clubs agreed to read “Stamped” over the summer.

“Everyone has to be involved. We wanted the parents to be just as involved,” she says. “We want adults and senior adults to be just as involved — all of us working towards being a better community, being a stronger community.” 

Summer programming topics will include:

  • Equity in education
  • Culturally responsive teaching
  • Environmental justice
  • Equity in the arts
  • Film screenings
  • Bilingual storytimes
  • Voting rights in North Carolina
  • Summer camps
  • Book discussion with incarcerated fathers and their children
  • Creating an anti-racist work environment
  • Racism and religion
  • Author talks
  • Book club discussions

Book with Purpose culminates Sept. 25 with an event at the Bookmarks Festival in downtown Winston-Salem, which is returning for its 16th year after missing last year due to COVID-19. Southern knows it takes more than one summer to eradicate racism from any city, but she hopes that the program will lead residents to reflect on race more thoughtfully — and, importantly, share those ideas with others.

“Maybe it’ll be something that people will consider more,” she says. “We hope that people will have learned something, that they will have developed a deeper empathy for what people of other races go through. That would be a step in the right direction.” 

How to donate: Bookmarks is raising money to donate copies of the books, including Spanish-language versions, to various schools and community organizations. To donate, visit