Book club has healing effect on neighborhoods

A book club is working to mend racial rifts in the Southwest and South Minneapolis neighborhoods, and the efforts recently won a Community Leader award from Council Member Elizabeth Glidden’s 8th Ward office.

“People get to know each other, and they can discuss things honestly with each other,” said Doris Christopher, co-founder of the BuildingBridges Book Club. “We get into some really deep discussions.”

She explained that the book club was borne out of the racially-divisive debate in 2010 over a dog park at Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park. Some people living west of 35W wanted to build a dog park there, while others on the east side of 35W felt it would be sacrilegious to Dr. King, Christopher explained.

“Especially since dogs played such a part in his treatment,” she said. “When he was trying to get equal rights, people were siccing dogs on him. … He was our hero.”

The dog park idea was dropped, and the Building Bridges committee was formed to work on common issues across the highway.

“I think that was one of the best ideas,” Christopher said. “People got to know me, and I got to know people on the other side.”

The committee decided to form a book club that explored multicultural issues. Co-founder Lynda McDonnell said the book club explores “topics that are usually pretty untouchable.”

“People will tell their own stories,” she said. “When conversations are really good, they invite a look at our differences, but also our similarities.”

The club has enjoyed a soul food dinner with author Jonathan Odell, who wrote about growing up white in Jim Crow Mississippi. They discussed Hmong culture in ‘The Latehomecomer,” in which Kao Kalia Yang recounts her family’s escape to a refugee camp and its adaptation to American life.

On March 5, the book club will discuss “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” by Michelle Alexander. The 6:30 p.m. meeting is at Living Spirit Methodist Church, 4501 Bloomington Ave. S.

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