By Annie Bennett
Malden Reads hosted a COVID-conscious launch on Tuesday, January 26, with a car procession starting from the Malden Public Library on Salem Street, past UMA – Urban Media Arts (formerly MATV) on Pleasant Street, and ending at Malden’s new City Hall. The procession symbolically linked the two anchor institutions (the library and UMA) that help coordinate the volunteer-run “One City, One Book” program, which first launched in 2011.
According to the group’s website, the mission of Malden Reads is “to promote literacy and a love of reading, and to build community in the city of Malden.” It is known in the community for its unifying effect. This season, participants will be reading Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, a response to the fervent cries for racial justice across the world over the past year. Noah is a Black comedian and a South African native, most well-known for his current role as the host of “The Daily Show.” Erga Pierrette, a member of the Malden Reads Steering Committee, was an advocate for choosing Noah’s memoir. “It made the most sense at a time when we needed the humor and a need for us to learn about each other’s history,” said Pierette. She sees the choice as a powerful step to “work toward a more anti-racist community” and hopes to see a “moment of awakening for our entire city.”
As part of the wide range of programming offered for the 11th season of the program, Malden Reads, in collaboration with Malden Community Organizing for Racial Equity (MaldenCORE) will host an anti-racism workshop series that uses a companion book, Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacy, to explore systemic racism on a personal level. The workshop will be facilitated by Bwann Kellie Gwann, Assistant Director of the Urban Scholars Initiative at Lesley University. Caron Guigli, the Assistant Director of Malden’s Public Library, believes that “the themes are comparable” and is excited about the pairing.
Other events include a panel discussion with South African activists on South Africa’s history of apartheid , which will also compare racism under apartheid with systemic racism in our country. There will also be a door decorating contest, book discussions, a film screening, a memoir writing workshop, a creative Filmbuilding workshop, and a comedy event with special guest comedian Maya May. All events will be held virtually, due to pandemic precautions. (See full online brochure posted at end of article.)
After the procession, there was a socially distant gathering for an official launch, with two speakers from the local government. Mayor Gary Christenson sees this year’s book choice as a way to “help the rest of our Malden community understand what’s going on outside of this five-mile radius.” As a politician, Christenson is particularly proud of the Unite Malden 2020 initiative, which will help to fund the anti-racism workshop series. Continuously, the mayor is also enthusiastic about the way that “the program encourages reading” among his constituents.
City Council President Neal Anderson also spoke at the launch and shared his personal story of being deployed in South Africa as a Black man. He says that Americans have “so much to be proud of here in the United States. We’ve got a lot of issues, but we’ve made a ton of progress.” Anderson is hopeful that readers of Noah’s book will notice what he sees as parallels between apartheid and Jim Crow, saying that for a long time there have been “two systems of justice, two economies, and two Americas (one for white people and the other for Black people).”
While the themes of this season’s choice are very personal and deep, for some participants, their main motivation for being involved is much like other years, a chance to read and grow as a community. Natalie Keating, age 14, rode in the car with her mother during the procession. She says that she’s excited to be involved because in her “family we all love to read, and we do a lot of stuff with the town.” Her and her mother were there representing a troop of Malden Girl Scouts.
With the pandemic, this year’s Malden Reads program will look a little different. However, if this week’s launch was any indication, it will be successful, nonetheless.
Annie Bennett is a journalism major at Emerson College and an intern at UMA – Urban Media Arts. All photographs by Annie Bennett.