One Book, One Community series continues

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FARMINGTON A pair of events planned later this week at San Juan College in conjunction with the One Book, One Community program will examine the issue of civil rights from different perspectives.

SJC adjunct professor Cynthia Rapp Sandhu will deliver a lecture on "The Influence of Religion on the Civil Rights Movement" at 2:30 p.m. Thursday in Room 9012 of the Henderson Fine Arts Center on the college campus, 4601 College Blvd. in Farmington.

At 1 p.m. Friday, two SJC students will describe their experiences as protestors on the Dakota Access Pipeline project in Room 9010 of the Henderson Fine Arts Center.

Both events are designed to promote discussion of civil rights issues, the focus of the graphic memoir trilogy "March," which is this year's One Book, One Community selection. The series, created by U.S. Rep. John Lewis, Andrew Aydi and Nate Powell, charts Lewis' history as a civil rights activist, and chronicles the victories and defeats of the movement throughout American history.

Sandhu acknowledges she is not a civil rights expert, but her academic background in history and theology positioned her well to put together her lecture as part of the series of events that accompanies the program each year. She maintains that religion provided the motivation and cohesion that allowed the civil rights movement in America to be as successful as it was in the 1950s and 1960s.

"It probably wouldn't have happened without religion," she said.

Sandhu said her lecture incorporates concepts she picked up during her studies at the Religious Literacy Project at the Harvard Divinity School; her impressions from "March," namely Lewis' growing awareness of the social gospel as a young man; and the writings of Norwegian sociologist Johan Galtung, who is widely credited as the primary founder of the discipline of peace and conflict studies.

She pointed out that before religion became the element around which the civil rights movement was constructed, it had been used for centuries to justify activities such as slavery. In that respect, she said, many white people interpreted their Christianity very differently than black people did, she said.

"It can take people a while to wrap their heads around that," Sandhu said, explaining that she plans to examine some questions related to those two perspectives.

"How do we know who's right and who's wrong?" she asked rhetorically. "Religions evolve over time."

Sandhu said she plans to speak for approximately 45 minutes, leaving some time for questions.

"I'm hoping it gives people a new way of seeing the civil rights movement and understanding religion," she said.

Danielle Sullivan, an associate professor of English at the college who directs the One Book, One Community program, said most research shows young adults are generally familiar with the broad strokes of the civil rights movement – Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream Speech" and Rosa Parks' central role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott – but they understand much less about the movement's relevance to contemporary America and how the struggle continues.

She believes the selection of "March" has helped address that in the Farmington area.

"I am pleased with how it's brought our campus community together to discuss social issues," she said. "Sometimes, that makes people uncomfortable, but I feel like that's part of the process."

Given the college's large population of Native students, Sullivan organized Friday's discussion by students Jennifer Redhouse and Danielle Gibbons to perhaps motivate indigenous students to consider how the issue of civil rights affects them today. She pointed out that the Dakota Access Pipeline civil unrest widely was misconstrued as a protest against oil when, in fact, it was born out of the idea of environmental injustice.

Redhouse and Gibbons will be discussing their experiences as part of the protests, but Sullivan said they also will be talking about how they felt about the outcome – specifically, was the act ultimately meaningless or was there something more gained from it?

Sullivan said she is trying to engage all members of the college community in the civil rights discussion, pointing to a recent film festival associated with the One Book, One Community program. One film focused on Latino labor leader Cesar Chavez, while another was devoted to the issue of bullying and its application to the LGBTQ community.

A new book is chosen each year for the One Book, One Community program at the college, and students, faculty and staff members, and community members are encouraged to read and discuss it. The subjects have varied, ranging from the dystopian suspense novel "The Circle" by Dave Eggers in 2015 to last year's selection, "The Emerald Mile" by Kevin Fedarko, a nonfiction account of a record-setting rafting trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in 1983.

Sullivan said next year's One Book, One Community selection is "Binti" by Nnedi Okorafor, a sci-fi novella that was the first installment in what would become a series by the author, who writes for the "Black Panther" graphic novel series. "Binti" chronicles the experiences of a gifted young math student who leaves her planet to pursue an education at an intergalactic university, leaving her culture behind.

"We liked that theme a lot because we think a lot of our students go through that," Sullivan said.

Both of this week's events are free and open to the public. Call 505-566-3476 or visit sanjuancollege.edu/onebook for more information.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or via email at measterling@daily-times.com.

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