We Are the Change: Words of Inspiration from Civil Rights Leaders, with an introduction by Harry Belafonte

We are the Change: Words of Inspiration 
from Civil Rights Leaders
With an introduction by Harry Belafonte
Review Copy from Chronicle Books

From the first page:

This book was inspired by the continuing work of the AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION, which guards the rights of all Americans under law.

"So long as we have enough people in this country willing to fight for their rights, we'll be called a democracy."

- American Civil Liberties Union Founder 
Roger Baldwin

Belafonte's introduction begins with a meditation on, "three revolutionary words: We the People," and ends with a message to readers, "our future leaders, who will continue to learn the historical accomplishments, along with the mistakes, of our ancestors." What follows are fifteen quotes chosen and illustrated by artists, all with a passage from the artists about what the quote they chose means to them. Back matter includes illustrator biographies.

As someone who works in an educational setting with kids of various ages, I love that We Are the Change works can be read on many levels. The illustrations alone often tell stories that make you think and make you want to know more. The quotes chosen, from politicians, activists, authors, artists and even a queen (married artists Selina Alko and Sean Qualls both chose quotes from Maya Angelou) cover a range of important figures and make for a great introduction and much inspiration.

While I could write paragraphs about each and every quote and illustration and what it sparked in me, I will hold up two here. Raúl the Third, illustrator of the Lowriders trilogy of awesome graphic novels, written by Cathy Camper, and the upcoming picture book, ¡Vamos! Let's Go to the Market, chose this quote:

"People have a right to different opinions, but those difference should not turn into hatred. We should love and care for each other because we are all one human race." - Dolores Huerta

His reflection touches on being made to feel, "less than American," growing up because his mother didn't speak English and knowing that certain people had been, "taught to believe that I might be dangerous." Over time, he realized that these opinions had created, "walls that were being used against me and other like, me, keeping us from achieving out true potential. It took a long time to overcome the obstacles and feelings of insecurity that these opinions had formed within me, and today when I look back at them as an adult I knwo that I was fortunate to survive and to become the artist that I am today."

Greg Pizzoli, illustrator/author of many fantasitc picture books, chose this quote:

There is but one coward on earth and that is the coward that dare not know. - W.E.B. Du Bois

On his choice, Pizzoli writes:

I don't want to be a coward. I want to be brave. I don't want to look away. But at times, and nowadays it's quite often, things seem so bad, so overwhelmingly bad, that looking away seems the only option. It's not. There is protest, there is charity, there is action. This quote resonated with me for two reasons: it calls out those in power who refuse to acknowledge the rights and liberties of the powerless, and it also asks of us to recognize how we are complicit in the problems to which we are oblivious or that we choose to overlook. I am happy to contribute artwork for this edition and to support the work that the ACLU does to ensure that the voices those in power "dare not know" are known, and heard.

As a middle class white woman working with a population of students that is almost entirely Latinx, largely children of immigrants and immigrants from Mexico and Central America, Raúl the Third's quote from Dolores Huerta reminds me once again of what my students experience daily and the unseen challenges they face, on top of the visible ones they meet every day. Greg Pizzoli's quote from W.E.B. Du Bois reminds me that, in the face of this, I can't put it out of my mind, I can't ignore it. I can't be a coward.

Thank you to Chronicle Book and all the contributors to We Are the Change for this thoughtful, inspirational book and for their support of the ACLU.

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