At this time of great turmoil and divisiveness in our nation, common ground can be hard to find. We have news stations that cater to political taste, social media platforms that foster information silos, and politicians who have done more to tear at the fabric of this evermore fragile society than to weave it together.
Now in its 15th year, UCSB Reads provides a refreshing alternative for the campus community and Santa Barbara at large through its “one book” program. This annual venture, which has been honored nationally by the American Library Association, is aimed at sparking dialogue and good-faith discussion on the pertinent issues of our time.
The 2021 UCSB Reads book, When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, by Patrisse Cullors and asha bandele, examines a number of timely topics through the lens of Cullors’s traumatic upbringing, which led to her role in the founding of the Black Lives Matter social justice organization.
“For me, the fact that UCSB Reads had never centered the voice of a queer person of color was something I felt had to be addressed,” said UCSB librarian kynita stringer-stanback, a member of the UCSB Reads advisory committee. “When you saw this worldwide push to really examine white supremacist ideology, I thought it was imperative that we hear from one of the people who birthed the movement.”
As a matter of fact, UCSB Reads has never featured a book written by a Black female author. Cullors’s Southern California background also adds additional context for the Santa Barbara community to relate to.
According to UCSB librarian Alex Regan, the UCSB Reads advisory committee chair, one of the primary goals of the program is to create maximum engagement throughout the disciplines on campus. “The intent really is that it is campus- and community-wide, and it’s really important that our classes are engaging with the UCSB Reads book,” she said. “Not just English classes that you might imagine, but classes across the disciplines.”
The magic of Cullors’s memoir is that she is able to touch upon so many issues that are front and center in our national consciousness, including criminal justice reform, LGBTQ+ rights, health care, public education, religion and spirituality, the War on Drugs, housing discrimination, and many more through specific examples in her adolescents and adulthood. Each theme provides an opening for dialogue to take place and encourages nuanced discussions that are more likely to break through preconceived notions and broad ideology.
“We are at a point where we’re having to have some difficult conversations,” stringer-stanback said. “We’re at a point where these conversations have to be civil, where we have to recognize everyone’s humanity, and I think we have to take a stand around hate speech.”
The 2021 UCSB Reads program began in earnest in January beginning with the student book giveaway and will conclude on Wednesday, May 12, with a free online talk featuring Cullors. A list of upcoming events associate with the program can be found at library.ucsb.edu/events-exhibitions.
Cullors grew up in Los Angeles in the 1990s. She was one of four children raised by a single mother, who worked multiple jobs for her family to survive. In her Van Nuys neighborhood, Black people were criminalized from childhood, often the collateral damage of the War on Drugs that brought with it unprecedented police presence, force, and brutality on communities of color. Cullors was 9 years old when she first saw her 11- and 13-year-old brothers slammed against a wall by police — a pattern of injustice she would encounter into her adulthood.
The tragic death of Trayvon Martin in 2013 was a flashpoint for Cullors and the Black Lives Matter movement, which has gained momentum in the fight for justice ever since.
“It’s really important for us as a community to really embrace her voice. We don’t have to agree with her. I’m sure there are a lot of folks out here who may not agree with her perspective and that’s fine,” stringer-stanback said. “We have a right as a community to interact with her voice. We have the right to consider her perspective and I also think we have a responsibility as a university in central California so close to Los Angeles to consider what this person’s experience is.”