Heather Greenwood Davis reviews 3 books by women leading the push for social change
Heather Greenwood Davis is a Toronto writer and editor who has travelled all over the world with her husband and two sons. She's a contributing writer for National Geographic and the founder of the travel blog Globetrottingmama.com. She's been a trailblazer in the travel world, as the first Black woman to have a travel column in a Canadian national newspaper.
Recent social movements such as Black Lives Matter and #MeToo have changed the conversation around such issues as racism and sexual harassment. Greenwood Davis says these shifts have been reflected in her reading as she delves deeper into ideas around activism and advocacy.
The Next Chapter columnist spoke with Shelagh Rogers about three books that have inspired her understanding of how we can all make change in our own ways: The Lightmaker's Manifesto by Karen Walrond, Unbound by Tarana Burke, and More Than Enough by Elaine Welteroth.
The Lightmaker's Manifesto by Karen Walrond
"Karen is a former lawyer who found photography and used it as a way to celebrate difference, and eventually to advocate for causes she believes in. And she's also faced some tremendous adversity herself, including losing her home to Hurricane Harvey a few years ago.
"In this book, she makes the case for activism and explores the question of how we define that activism — and how if we are just somebody who wants to make a difference in the world, we can claim that title, and what's required for that. And she does this by talking to a bunch of people — names you will know and names you won't.
She makes the case for activism and explores the question of how we define that activism.
"But the idea is that you don't have to be a Greta Thunberg; you don't have to be a civil rights icon to make an impact in the world. And she lays out a plan to make light in the world, which is really quite easy to follow based on the steps that she provides.
"She talks about using your own innate gifts to offer them to the world. You have a responsibility to use whatever they are — in her case, her photography and her writing skills — to be able to share some tips with the rest of us. So I think it just opens up the idea of who can be an activist and make sure that we all see space for ourselves."
Unbound by Tarana Burke
"This is a really exciting book for me because I really underestimated what this book would do. I think most people are aware of the #MeToo hashtag on Twitter. We know that Alyssa Milano came out in solidarity with a bunch of women who had been assaulted by Harvey Weinstein. They used that hashtag. It became a rallying cry for the movement.
"And then shortly after, we learned that in fact, the concept and the movement had been birthed years earlier by Tarana Burke. She's a Black woman who'd been working in the field with abused women. So the credit was given to her fairly quickly. But this book isn't really about what happened after she joined the movement. It's really about what happened before. And as it turns out, Tarana herself was abused several times, beginning in her childhood. She shares that painful past, as well as the path that led her to the movement.
With people who we think we know because we've seen them on TV or read about them, we forget that they are holistic, rounded people who have very different facets to themselves.
"And what I found fascinating was that I think with a lot of these people — people who we think we know because we've seen them on TV or read about them or they're on social media — we forget that they are holistic, rounded people who have very different facets to themselves. And the stories she tells about herself ... really are the fuel that led to who we get in this crusader later in life. And it just filled me with even more respect for her."
More Than Enough by Elaine Welteroth
"I actually read this a little while ago and just keep going back to it. She was the host of The Talk on television, and was also the former editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue — she was really the woman who made the changes at that magazine that made it more political. You'll remember they were very involved with the American election, and it became this real voice for young women.
"And when I first read this book, I loved it so much that as soon as I was finished, I immediately started reading it again. It was the first book I'd ever read that I thought offered a really honest, straightforward look at what life could be like for a Black woman navigating a path to corporate success. She was the second person of African-American heritage in Condé Nast's 107-year history to hold the title.
I think this is the kind of book you hand to a young woman who aspires to that kind of career, and it could almost be a manual for her life.
"So you can imagine what she went through to get there. Elaine's mom is Black, her dad is white, so she navigates some of that mixed-race heritage. She grew up fairly middle-class, and in the book we follow her from her childhood through her teen years, all the way up to Teen Vogue and watch her deal with identity issues, hair, politics, relationships — all of those things.
"I think this is the kind of book you hand to a young woman who's at the start of one of those careers or aspires to that career, and it could almost be a manual for her life."
- Elaine Welteroth on changing Teen Vogue, breaking glass ceilings and how to claim space for yourself
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.