As we dive into Black History Month, we asked our Grotto community what movies they are watching, books they are reading, and podcasts they are listening to about the experience of Black people in this country. And we’re excited to share the recommendations coming in!
So if you’re looking for ideas for ways you can explore more of our shared history that includes stories from Black people, this is a great place to start.
One Night in Miami: Imagine Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown in the same room for one night — that’s the premise of this film, which imagines the four change-makers gathering in a hotel room in Miami after Ali’s title win in February 1964. The dialogue is riveting as each of the four figures balance the benefits and responsibilities of fame. We see them push and pull one another in their efforts to speak to the injustice of a racist Jim Crow system that has touched each of them in profound ways.
Selma: If you haven’t seen the film that received four Golden Globe awards in 2015, this is an effective immersion into the heart of the Civil Rights movement. It was released on the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches, which were led by Martin Luther King, Jr., and John Lewis. The movie was nominated for best picture and received an Oscar for best song.
Hidden Figures: Watching the story of the Black female mathematicians who contributed to the race to the moon in the 1960s is a good way to kick off Black History Month because it takes a familiar historical event and reveals the contributions of marginalized people who made it possible. It’s a way to correct our perception of this great achievement. Plus, you have a trio of amazing Black actors who command the screen: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe.
“Letter from a Region in My Mind,” a 1962 essay by James Baldwin: Baldwin is a master stylist, so he’s always worth reading just for the language and clarity of thought. He’s also brutally honest — about himself and the society he lived in. Here, he writes about growing up in Harlem, addresses the rise of the Nation of Islam in the Black community, and articulates his own belief system.
The Vanishing Half and The Mothers by Brit Bennett: Bennett’s novels explore the intricacies of family and community dynamics just as much as they do race. Notably, both novels have women at their center, with a focus on female friendships as well as relationships between daughters and mothers (in the broadest sense). Both novels are about leaving home and returning again, and ask questions about changing — or owning — one’s narrative.
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid: In this fast-paced novel, Reid dives into the intersection of race and privilege in the story of Emira, a Black woman living in Philadelphia who babysits for a white family. After a fateful interaction is caught on camera, Emira must ask herself who close to her is truly her ally.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Americanah plunges the reader into the world of Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman who moves to America. The reader gets to see America from her fresh perspective on race, class, ideology, and region — all with a wit and incisiveness that makes her a fascinating titular character. Americanah explores themes of belonging and home in this exquisite novel.
I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown: A must-read for anyone working in service work or ministry, Brown’s memoir I’m Still Here is an intimate and unfiltered look at being Black in the workplace. Brown shares openly about her Christian faith, making this memoir both instructive and contemplative.
Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism, and You, by Ibram X. Kendi: Kendi has become a leading voice in the growing national consciousness of racism. There is some debate about his worldview and his use of critical race theory, but there’s no doubt that the ideas he articulates here should be part of the conversation. In Stamped, Kendi offers a history of racism, which puts us all in a better position to understand the roles and reactions we have to racial realities.
Code Switch by NPR: Apple podcasts named Code Switch its first-ever “show of the year” for 2020 with co-hosts Shereen Marisol Meraji and Gene Demby. They describe the show as “Race. In your face.” A good episode to begin with: “Is it Time to say R.I.P to ‘POC’?”
1619 by The New York Times: A podcast by the NYT that seeks to tell the story of the fateful moment the first ship carrying more than 20 enslaved Africans arrived to an English colony in what would later be known as the United States, the 250 years of slavery that followed, and the lasting legacy of slavery in our country.
Uncivil by Gimlet Media: A history podcast that goes back to the time that our divisions turned into a war, telling stories left out of the official history.
A World Not My Own: Growing up, Kayla rarely encountered protagonists in her history classes who were Black, like her. Here, she shares what it’s like to see the world as a person of color — and what it means for her to feel at home.
These Black Women Are Heroes in the History of Activism: Here are eight Black women who changed our world for the better, from Sojourner Truth to Bree Newsome.
John Lewis and the Genius of Nonviolence: At 23 years old, John Lewis was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington. He was speaking and acting out of a tradition of radical nonviolence that has something to teach us today.
How Thea Bowman Set an Example for a Divided World: Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA, stands as a giant in the history of the Catholic Church in America in the 21st century. She was a woman who saw a vision for who we could be, and was fearless in urging us to get there.
Artist’s Black Pieta A Call For Justice: Tylonn J. Sawyer’s art portrays the lives and experiences of Black people in America. Through works like his Pietà, he calls on our shared humanity and urges us to pay attention to what’s happening around us and work for change.
Film Brings Awareness to Tragic Events on Greenwood Avenue: Ayana Baraka is the creator of a historical film about the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Filmed on the actual Greenwood Avenue, this film is both a way to preserve history and bring healing.
Historically Black Catholic Parish Has a Thriving Community: St. Augustine Parish in Washington, D.C. has been called the “mother church of black Catholics.” But what really makes this parish special is the community that gathers here.