Bigger, Better, Together

When The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas was chosen as the featured title for Community Read 2019, Outreach Channel Leader and project manager Meryle Leonard saw an opportunity. “The themes in this book are so relevant and timely, we knew we’d need partners with different experiences and expertise. It was a natural opportunity to position the Library system as a convener and a platform for programs and dialogue that may be facilitated by others,” Meryle explains. “The support and participation of over 30 community organizations - including Charlotte- Mecklenburg Police Department - was essential to the program’s reach and success.”

We asked CMPD Community Engagement Officers Richard Nelson, Brent Hartley, Ryan Botzenmayer and Michael Nguyen for their thoughts on the partnership.

What is important about this book, and about reading and discussing it together?

RN: This book brings up tough topics. It isn’t just a police story. There are issues of race relations, teen per- spectives, law enforcement, identity, school, neighborhoods – everyone can identify with a character or situation, see other views and discuss.

BH: And we’ll continue these dialogues – Community Read is the start of an ongoing partnership.

How does a program like Community Read help to build a stronger community?

RB: We all say we want change, and this program is making change. The beauty of the partnership approach is that we all can reach more people and build participation. There is potential for much greater impact.

Why did CMPD choose to be a Community Read partner?

BH: We were already addressing these topics – Chief Putney’s Bridging the Difference program is all about community conversations, and that energy trickles down. We jumped on board.

Have you been surprised by any aspect of this program?

MN: Kids share their interactions with the police, and we walk through similar scenarios from an officer’s perspective. We can all do better by understanding one another.

RB: Older participants have been very interesting. They recall the civil rights era, it’s educational to us to speak with them.

How do you see the Library as a platform for community programs?

RN: Charlotte Mecklenburg Library locations are common ground. They are a perfect space for this.

MN: Libraries are important because reading is the foundation for every- thing else. We read to understand.