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Grantees promoting compassion & understanding

Half a century ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded a nation that “…every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle—the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”

Today, as we here at Arts Midwest commemorate the life and legacy of Dr. King, we are grateful for our NEA Big Read community and their commitment to the values of courage, compassion, education, and service that Dr. King championed.


Empty stage set for Curious Theatre Company’s performance of Citizen. Photo courtesy of Lighthouse Writers Workshop.

The courage to have difficult discussions

In Denver, CO, our January Featured Grantee, Lighthouse Writers Workshop, asked their community to explore what it meant to be a citizen. From their interview: “With all that’s been going on the last several years—from Charlottesville to the Black Lives Matter movement—race and social justice have been a huge part of the national conversation. We wanted to help bring that conversation home, and Citizen did that…Discussion facilitators told us, repeatedly, how excited people were to have an easier way into these kinds of conversations, how the talks went deeper faster because the book had laid the groundwork for a more intimate discussion.”

Sidewalk poem reads: colored heroes play all night in the sandlot / And / white lights crowd stadiums

Sidewalk poetry from Lighthouse Writers Workshop Meet in the Street event. Photo courtesy of Lighthouse Writers Workshop.

Compassion in our communities, past and present

In Holland, MI, Hope College reached over 1,000 middle school and high school students with their NEA Big Read for author Julie Otsuka’s When the Emperor Was Divine, leading book discussions about internment, immigration, and identity. Their program culminated in their Big Read Student Exhibition of Learning, a student art exhibit dealing with identity, racism, and resilience in their communities. For more details, coverage of this event was published in The Holland Sentinel.

Learning to turn your back on hatred

The Latehomecomer author Kao Kalia Yang visited Wichita, KS as part of the Wichita Public Library Foundation’s NEA Big Read: “At one of the high school author visits, one young man asked the author how she has dealt with the hate she must feel for those who persecuted her family and pushed them out of their country. It led to an especially emotional response from the author about the futility of hate and how little it accomplishes. Her lengthy answer gave everyone in the audience a chance to reflect on turning one’s back on hatred and finding ways of bringing peace to others. A young man in the audience, who went forward to talk with the author personally following the lecture, was helped in gaining perspective on his own journey.”

“In a seemingly hopeless situation, they fashioned within their souls a creative optimism that strengthened them. Their bottomless vitality transformed the darkness of frustration into the light of hope.” —Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Serving the community through diversity education

In Salinas, CA, the National Steinbeck Center’s NEA Big Read for Citizen: An American Lyric led to diversity initiatives and programs for their community. “The Arts Council for Monterey County, a local granting agency funding organizations and individuals working in the arts, will conduct a diversity workshop scheduled for Spring 2018. The workshop grew out of one presentation at the Big Read, and the aim is to expand the discussion of equity to nonprofit groups…In addition, Hartnell College, a Hispanic-serving community college in Salinas, will use Citizen as part of a faculty retreat in the winter of 2017. The book will be used as a jumping off point to discuss ways in which faculty and the college as a whole can better serve their students. The micro-aggressions described in Citizen are broadly applicable to the Salinas community and beyond.”