March Book of the Month |  How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith

Allees Gwendolyn Midlo Hall

Our March Community Book Club pick is the #1 New York Times bestseller and one of TIME Magazine’s 10 Best Nonfiction Books of 2021, How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith. Smith was born and raised in New Orleans. He is a profound poet and writer. His spoken word has resonated with many and leaves you deeply moved and challenged. His two TED talks, The Danger of Silence and How to Raise a Black Son in America have been viewed over a million times. His writing brings together his wealth of knowledge and his artistry as a poet and storyteller. How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America begins with Smith’s own hometown of New Orleans. He leads the reader through landmarks across America like the Monticello Plantation in Virginia and the Whitney Plantation in New Orleans, the only former plantation that is devoted to preserving the experience of the enslaved people there. He also looks at holidays like Juneteenth and neighborhoods like Manhattan and tells their stories and connections to slavery. Smith takes us on a journey of remembering through his honest reflective look at how slavery has shaped the many facets of what we know as America and how it still traumatizes people today.  

This book was chosen to take us on a journey of gaining a broader perspective of the impact of slavery and the harsh reality of the lives of enslaved people and their descendants in a way that reminds us that this is not something that we are so far removed from. It gives us the opportunity to learn the ways in which slavery is often misremembered and watered down so we can remember and connect with those who suffered and still suffer today. As we work actively to create anti-racist spaces as clinicians and educators, this book invites us to take another look at our beliefs and examine with new eyes how we teach, train, and work with families impacted by racial trauma every day. The past is always present, and this book gives us an opportunity to decide how we will choose to ensure that racial trauma is not dismissed and is taken seriously as we lead the charge as educators and healers.  

Smith is currently a staff writer at The Atlantic, the host of the YouTube series Crash Course Black American History, and is also the author of the poetry collection Counting Descent. He was a Teach For America Corps member (DC region 2011) and taught high school English in Prince George’s County, Maryland. He received his B.A. in English from Davidson College and his Ph.D. in Education from Harvard University. 

You can hear him talk about the book on YouTube

Book club selection and description written by Barbara Neal, M.Ed., MS-MFT
Above Image: Allées Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, slave memorial dedicated to 107, 000 people enslaved in Louisiana. Courtesy of the Whitney Plantation Museum.

About Ackerman’s Community Book Club:

Ackerman’s Community Book Club is a monthly series of reading recommendations curated by our family therapy instructors. We invite you to read one book each month that explores diversity, equity, and inclusion and join us on a pathway to curiosity. The books on our list have been selected with the aim of increasing knowledge, empathy, willingness, and skill to confront xenophobia as therapists, educators, and lifelong learners, in the personal and professional spaces we occupy.

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