2020 Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards Documentary Now Available To Stream

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Works by Langston Hughes, Zadie Smith and Toni Morrison will soon have a new place to call home.

All three authors have books housed in the Anisfield-Wolf collection at the downtown branch of the Cleveland Public Library, tucked away in the recesses of the second-floor special collections room. Now the collection, the only complete assemblage of all 83 years of Anisfield-Wolf-winning books, will be a showpiece of the new $10 million Martin Luther King Jr branch in University Circle. The canon contains almost 200 books and grows each year.

The New York-based firm SO-IL + Kurtz won the months-long design competition, funded by the Cleveland Foundation, to create a stylish, culturally significant proposal for a 21st-century branch of the Cleveland Public Library. The new 20,000-square-foot building will rise around the corner from the current location, a well-used community hub that was constructed just months after the assassination of the Civil Rights leader nearly 50 years ago.

The library would occupy the ground floor of a multi-story apartment building as part of the $300 million Circle Square development project, which will bring more retail and housing to the southern section of University Circle.

Each of the competing firms was instructed to incorporate King’s legacy into their proposals. SO-IL + Kurtz weaved elements from King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, crafting the center of the branch to create a raised “table of brotherhood.” The large, raised platform could be divided into areas for reading, homework and performances. The exterior adds a lush perimeter of greenery with bright columns abetting the natural light.

The Anisfield-Wolf collection will be a focal point at the top of a grand staircase, with the firm’s architects likening it to a “sculptural forest of ideas.” For the library patron, the hope is to mimic King’s notion of reaching “the mountaintop.”

“I am in awe of the three final designs for the Martin Luther King Jr. branch library, and captivated by the plans the library board chose — giving the neighborhood, the memory of Dr. King and the Anisfield-Wolf winning books a home unlike any other,” said Karen R. Long, manager of the book awards. “This new branch is suffused with beauty and innovation. May it be a destination for generations of readers.”

Of the five prompts for the 2016 Martin Luther King essay contest, Case Western Reserve University senior Shadi Admadmehrabi selected the following quote as her guide: “According to your own ability and personality, do not be afraid to experiment with new and creative techniques for achieving reconciliation and social change.” 

Ahmadmehrabi’s reflection on solving inequities in the community surrounding the CWRU campus earned her a nod as a finalist in this year’s contest. Read her essay in full below and leave a comment if you are so inclined: 

by Shadi Ahmadmehrabi

What does it mean to be a student in Cleveland? What is our role as a community member outside of just going to class and back? How do we understand our neighbors and the fact that the life expectancy of the average person drops 20 years just 3 miles from campus?

I do not know the answers to these questions, but I have begun to understand my role as a student in Cleveland in the last few months of my time here. In the Spring of 2014, I, along with other members of the Muslim Student Association, started the Case Western Reserve University chapter of Food Recovery Network. Our mission is to fight waste and feed people by recovering the surplus food from campus and donating it to the community. We work with Bon Appetit and several other businesses in the area to donate their unsold excess food that would otherwise be simply thrown away, ensuring that the food we donate is treated with the same care and quality control as food we would serve to our own families. In the past year, we have donated over 7,300 pounds of food.

Every Saturday, we deliver the recovered food from campus to St. Matthew’s United Methodist Hope Soup Kitchen. We stay at St. Matthew’s for three or four hours to help prepare and serve a warm meal using ingredients from the Cleveland Food Bank. The community members who come to St. Matthew’s receive a warm meal on­site and take home the food we brought from campus, providing a few meals for the week.

In the kitchen, I have learned how to cook lasagna for a hundred people and use an industrial can opener. But most importantly, the conversations I have had in that kitchen have taught me about myself, my community, and my sense of place in Cleveland.

The first time I was in the kitchen at St. Matthew’s, I talked with Stephen, the kitchen cook and self­-proclaimed professional taste­ tester, about Lebron James’s return to Cleveland. Since then, I have talked with him and other members of the church about how more money is spent on surgical procedures for hair loss worldwide than malaria research, how our religions are much more similar than different, the history of Hough Street, and most importantly, how to get other students to have these conversations. St. Matthew’s, just two miles from campus, is where I have truly received an education.

I have taken classes on urban planning, how big corporations affect our society, research ethics, and religion. When I took those classes, I arrogantly felt like I understood the problems I wrote papers on. It was not until I put myself in my community, in an uncomfortable place, in front of someone whose life experiences were vastly different than mine that I could contextualize what I learned in class.

In classrooms, we read books by academics to learn about the problems playing out in our own neighborhood. We write eight-page papers reflecting, abstractly, on the macroscopic forces which have led to the pressing issues of our time. We travel hundreds of miles to volunteer for a week in a developing nation. We distance ourselves from problems like hunger, which we perceive as a starving child in a country far away, when we can see it a block from campus. In our focus on studies and on being impressive, we neglect the opportunity for a type of education unattainable in the classroom. We prioritize our studies and resume padding over using the incredible opportunities and ability we have on campus to achieve change.

Starting Food Recovery Network has been my personal way of doing what I can, given my abilities, to try to bring about an equilibrium between the vast excess of resources on our campus and the need in our community. But I am not a savior. No one is. Food Recovery Network helped me find purpose in my role as a student in my community, allowed me to practice my values, and empowered me as an underrepresented minority in leadership. In this regard, the value of giving back to my community is not just in benefiting others but also benefiting myself. It is impossible to distinguish service as purely altruistic because of this self­-reward.

My community is full of assets and hard­working people and I have been privileged enough to find my space within that. If I did not have a car, disposable income, and free time, I would not have been able to start this organization. I have been careful as a leader of a service group on campus to make sure other student volunteers also view this opportunity as a privilege. It is a privilege to be able to serve our community. If it were not for the resources we have on campus including USG funding, administrative support, and the benevolent donors we work with, we would not be able to do what we do. Without our neighbors at St. Matthew’s opening up their arms and hearts for us to come to their home every week, we would not be able to do what we do. The first part of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote, “…according to your own ability,” is a reminder that we all have some ability and capacity to serve. Some people have more ability, and thus more responsibility, to serve.

I hesitate to call Food Recovery Network a “new and creative” technique. It should be common sense to use our resources to help our neighbors. If Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s wisdom were being followed, every restaurant owner around the country would already be thinking about how they can alleviate hunger instead of contributing to landfills.

But we as a society have created an environment where doing the easiest thing to take care of our individual needs is prioritized above all else; this prevents us from acting on our abilities to help alleviate the problems which this very environment has produced. We are indeed, despite Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s wisdom, afraid to experiment with new and creative techniques for achieving social change. In fact, sometimes effective social change can be made with really simple ideas that have been overlooked because the people they help have been ignored.

However, as I have also learned from my time at St. Matthew’s, achieving change is not just in showing up and doing the work. Nor is it in starting yet another service organization on campus. Through time, patience, and acceptance, we have to develop the right mindset of truly wanting the best for each other and believing that we all deserve the best. There is nothing that justifies my having the opportunity to eat in a college cafeteria with endless food at my disposal and someone from my community living in a food ­insecure household. Developing the mindset of genuinely wanting the best opportunities for everyone allows us to see creative techniques of bringing about change. By listening to the needs of those around us, we can make connections between our abilities and opportunities to serve.

At St. Matthew’s, the moments where I have felt most proactive were not in securing 500 meal donations but in simply seeing a need and fulfilling it without being asked. One weekend at St. Matthew’s, I was talking with the afterschool program director, Linda, who told me about her difficulties with managing 40 kids on her own. I reached out to a fraternity on campus looking for service opportunities and connected them with Linda. When a volunteer noticed that the church was running low on plastic bags, I asked my friends for their collections. When a CWRU medical student joined Food Recovery Network, we set up brief presentations on diet­ related health problems and health screenings at St. Matthew’s.

These acts were not particularly courageous or laborious but they helped my community in some small way. I would not have seen these opportunities if I was not at St. Matthew’s every weekend. If we just dropped off food to feed nameless people at a soup kitchen then drove back to campus, patting ourselves on the back the whole way, I never would have had those conversations with Stephen or Linda. I never would have seen how Food Recovery Network could expand from just recovering food to providing tutors and health access in my community.

If we broke down the artificial barriers we perceive between people in our community, we could all see these connections waiting to be made. If we developed the right mindset of truly wanting the best for ourselves and our neighbors, we could empower ourselves to use our abilities to enact change. Then, developing these new and creative techniques to achieve social change would not be so new and creative after all— they would be the norm.

Shadi AhmadmehrabiShadi Ahmadmehrabi is a senior Polymers Engineering student at Case Western Reserve University. She will be attending Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine after graduation and hopes to advocate for minority access to healthcare as a physician. In her free time, Shadi enjoys biking, reading, and cooking.

In a year characterized by racial urgency, the local Martin Luther King Jr. essay contest is expanding to accept entries from students, faculty and staff at Cuyahoga Community College, as well as those at Case Western Reserve University.

Participants are invited to reflect on King’s connection to Cleveland and the fight for equal rights in our backyard. (King first visited Cleveland in 1956 to speak about the Montgomery Bus Boycott, returning often to raise funds, campaign for Carl Stokes’ bid for mayor and help organize a local boycott.)

The essays should reflect the themes in King’s first book, Stride Toward Freedom, which won an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in 1958. Winners will receive a monetary prize and a copy of one of King’s books.

Sponsors include the Cleveland Humanities Collaborative, Voices from the Village, Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, Kelvin Smith Library, the Case Office of Inclusion, Diversity, and Equal Opportunity and the Office of Multicultural Affairs.

Entries will be accepted until January 22, 2016. For the complete submission guidelines, visit the Cleveland Humanities Collaborative.

“I am not a person preoccupied by race,” said the groundbreaking journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault, instantly believable even in the paradox that her place in history is inextricably tied to race.

Exuding warmth and wit and height – even in low-heeled boots – Hunter-Gault asked about 200 listeners at Case Western Reserve University, “What would Dr. King be dreaming now – in the deep South and in the up South?”

When she was Charlayne Hunter, oldest child of a Methodist army chaplain and his wife, the teenager spotted King on the sidewalk in Atlanta outside his father’s church, Ebenezer Baptist. “I saw Dr. King on the street and I went to him and he said, ‘I know who you are. And I am so proud of you and Hamilton Holmes.’”

The minister embraced the willowy 19-year-old, who was withstanding systemic and very personal hatred leveled at her and Holmes as the first two African-Americans enrolled in the University of Georgia. When the duo arrived in January 1961, a mob taunted them and hurled bricks and bottles to punctuate chants of “Kill ‘em.” The angry segregationists wound up smashing windows in Hunter’s dormitory and a panicked administration expelled the black students “for their own safety.”  After the courts reinstated them, Holmes graduated to become an orthopedic surgeon and Hunter went on to a celebrated career in journalism at the New Yorker, the New York Times, NPR and CNN.

Wearing a dramatic shawl that matched impeccable lavender nails, Hunter-Gault at age 72 confided that her childhood ambition ignited as she read the Brenda Starr comic strip, sitting alongside her grandmother in Covington, Ga. Both she and Holmes attended Atlanta’s prestigious black high school, Henry McNeal Turner, where young Hamilton was valedictorian and young Charlayne graduated third in their class.

As her Cleveland listeners warmed to her remarks, Hunter-Gault beamed: “We can do some church here.” Textbooks, she remembered, were missing pages and outdated, passed along from the white schools. Her Atlanta teachers “couldn’t give us a first-class education, but they labored to give us a first-class sense of ourselves.”

When she and Holmes did reach the University of Georgia under historic court order, they were met with a daily barrage of the N-word. Hunter-Gault remembered looking around, unable to believe the hatred was meant for her, a queen in her own mind:  “I was wrapped in the armor of the black family. My grandfather was a preacher but my grandmother was a saint.” Under these trying circumstances, Hunter-Gault said, it was easy for her to pray.

And when King praised her on that sidewalk: “My own tears began to flow. He gave me another layer of armor.”

“We have come as far as we’ve come by faith, and our timeless, transcendent values,” she said.  “And I mean more than ‘having them;’ I mean ‘living them,’ and refusing to allow a gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of our times.”

Noting that she had been called to the Cleveland campus to reflect on King and the holiday, Hunter-Gault brought her audience to its feet to sing, ‘Ain’t Nobody Gonna Turn Me Around.”

She looked out past the lectern and made eye-contact around the room: “As a citizen, as a journalist, as a child of the Civil Rights movement, let me exhort you not to leave it alone until next year.”

Kerrick Woyshner, 18, was a scholar in the first college-level Anisfield-Wolf class, pioneered by Dr. Lisa Nielson at Case Western Reserve University. Students read essays, poems and books by Anisfield-Wolf Book Award winners, attended the September awards ceremony and did original research on topics inspired by the course.

“I never realized what motivated my hand to click on the ‘Reading Social Justice: The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards’ class this summer,” Woyshner wrote. “I wanted something new. Though I hailed from a conservative, all-male Catholic high school, I plan on continuing this education my entire life, striving to benefit those who don’t have the resources so that I may one day become the Martin Luther King or, rather, the Kerrick Woyshner of social justice.”

A student from Hamburg in western New York, Woyshner decided to contrast the work of two Anisfield-Wolf Book Award winners: the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka.

By Kerrick Woyshner

The writings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. have left an indelible mark on humanity and its quest for racial equality. In them, King presents his campaign of nonviolent protesting that built the framework for the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Birmingham Lunch Counter Sit-ins, and the March on Washington. King described these principles in his resounding first book, Stride Toward Freedom, which won the Anisfield-Wolf prize in 1959.

I argue that the life and writings of King, particularly in “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, serve as the United States’ most important references for effective and successful social change.

Born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia, King was the son and grandson of ministers who pioneered the struggle for African American equality. His grandfather, A.D. Williams, was one of the first heads of the Georgia chapter of the NAACP while his father, Martin Luther King, Sr. fought for equal salaries for African American teachers.

King skipped several grades and entered Morehouse College at 15 in search of “some intellectual basis for a social philosophy.” Torn between medicine, law, and the ministry, King chose the ministry. His study of social philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, Rousseau, Locke, and Hegel, in addition to his theological studies, fed his ability to organize and speak eloquently to the subjugation of African Americans. The most important influence, however, on the collegiate King was India’s leading peace activist, Mohandas Gandhi. “The spirit of passive resistance came to me from the Bible and the teachings of Jesus,” King wrote, “…The techniques of execution came from Gandhi.”

Interestingly, as Gandhi was criticized by British officials for his Quit India speech, King was criticized by eight white, Birmingham clergymen in an open letter titled “A Call for Unity.” The eight called King’s coordinated marches and sit-ins “unwise and untimely,” which prompted King’s response: his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” King demonstrated to his eight critics, the entire city of Birmingham, and the citizenry of the United States that his nonviolent movement for civil rights had never been more wisely and timely conducted, and he did it writing a letter upon scraps of wrinkled paper scavenged while locked up in Birmingham Jail.

King compared himself to Paul, one of Jesus’ apostles and one of Christianity’s predominant figures of the Apostolic Age, and to the early prophets of Christianity in bolstering his reasons for not sitting idly while the injustices of Birmingham were hindering the justice of humanity. “You deplore the demonstrations that are presently taking place in Birmingham,” King wrote to his critics, “But I am sorry that your statement did not express a similar concern for the conditions that brought the demonstrations into being.” King’s poignant response was persistent, powerful, and public.

Four months after King published his letter, he helped lead the March on Washington, making clear that his effort was not solely for the advancement of African American citizens, but for all races and religions that have endured the malicious sting of dehumanization globally.

Today, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards continue to recognize the Martin Luther Kings of society, the writers and orators who advocate for equality for all men and women regardless of their creed, color, disability or sexual orientation. The recipient of the 2013 Anisfield-Wolf Lifetime Achievement Award, Wole Soyinka, is a prime example. In his book The Man Died, Soyinka presents a stirring account of his time imprisoned in solitary confinement during the Biafran War in Nigeria.

In the same way that King recognized and exposed political and social injustice, Soyinka builds on King’s mission through moral obligation and immediate action, writing, “The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny.” Soyinka, whose literary and political gifts make him somewhat of a modern-day aggregate of Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke in September of the need to preserve libraries, safeguard and extend education and bend toward the arc of justice that King outlined a half century ago.

King’s “I Have a Dream” message preached a solution to the contradictions and paradoxes in society’s deviation from the Declaration of Independence: the end of racism. By eliminating discrimination, the United States inches closer to its intended goal of granting life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to all of its citizens. This synthesis of equality and understanding, supported by work of Wole Soyinka and the other winners of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, set King apart.

I believe in social justice in the same way King did. While I firmly believe those who do evil will be held to the principle of karma, it is not my place to perform such evil unto them. Similarly, King recognized that injustices cannot battle injustices — he had to kill his enemies with kindness. What’s more, King put his life on the line. He never knew when his last speech was going to be, when his last book was going to publish, what his last day would dawn, so he made each one count. He looked at wrongdoings and proposed peaceful, non-violent corrections. In this way, King viewed the world differently, so that, to him, me, and the 200,000 supporters assembled at the Lincoln Memorial before him, 1963 was not an end, but a beginning.

Chairing the jury for the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards is one of the single pleasures of my life. The thought that a poet – a white, female poet – had the foresight to endow a prize to honor excellence and diversity, at the height of the Great Depression, is something of a miracle, isn’t it? And in a few days, we will honor her commitment to racial equality and justice by recognizing this year’s winners of her prize, the 76th such occasion. It is humbling to thumb through the names of previous winners, including Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, and three Nobel laureates, Wole Soyinka, Toni Morrison, and Derek Walcott. God bless Edith Anisfield Wolf, and the Cleveland Foundation for so judiciously protecting her legacy.