I first became aware of Ibram X. Kendi in November, 2016. While chatting with my publisher friend Clive Priddle, I told him about a new Westchester-based group I'd become involved with, called Rivertowns Episcopal Parishes Action in Inclusion and Race (REPAIR).
"I have an author you might like to ask to speak to your group," Clive said. "His name is Ibram X. Kendi, and his book Stamped from the Beginning is up for the National Book Award. I've got a hunch it might win."
Well, we did invite Kendi to speak to REPAIR, and his book did win the award--which meant that, rather suddenly, both Kendi and his book had become a Very Big Deal. For good reason, as I discovered when I read it. Stamped from the Beginning is one of those rare books that tackles a topic you thought you knew well--in this case, the history of racist ideas--and makes you think about it in an entirely new and extremely useful way. The book is fairly long and quite scholarly--but once I started reading it, I couldn't stop.
In February, 2017, Kendi was scheduled to speak to REPAIR at the beautiful Warner Library in Tarrytown, New York. I met Kendi at the train station that evening, and the two of us went to a little local restaurant for a bite to eat. Frankly, the dinner conversation made me rather nervous. Kendi was friendly, but he seemed very soft-spoken, even shy--so much so that I wondered how good a public speaker he would be. Had we made a mistake in inviting him?
I soon discovered otherwise. The minute Kendi took the podium, his personality changed. He revealed himself as a forceful, dynamic speaker, with a surprising fact, a compelling anecdote, or an eye-opening comparison to offer in response to any question. When someone in the audience asked about a recent anti-Semitic incident in the community, Kendi not only knew all about it but was prepared with a thoughtful analysis of what such events suggest about the varieties of bigotry in our society. And though his topic was a serious one, he leavened his talk with flashes of wry humor, accompanied by flashes of a charming smile.
Kendi captivated an overflow crowd of more than 100 people of all races, and was rewarded by a prolonged standing ovation.
Perhaps you can see why I'm so pleased the Diocese of New York is sponoring this community-wide read of Kendi's latest book, How To Be An Antiracist. I've already learned as much from this important work as I did from his first book. And if you haven't had the pleasure of getting to know Ibram X. Kendi, and to learn from him, you are in for a treat.