From Awareness to Traction: Transforming Organizations Through DEI

From Awareness to Traction: Transforming Organizations Through DEI


The murder of George Floyd in May of 2020 served as a catalyst for organizations worldwide to confront systemic racism and address the lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) within their ranks. In the three-plus years since, some of our clients have made real breakthroughs in DEI, while others have fallen victim to their own performative attempts to make changes. Here are five ways we’ve observed leaders move beyond symbolic gestures to gain real traction and create truly inclusive, more powerful workplaces.

  1. Acknowledge the Need for Change.  In the summer of 2020, organizations recognized the urgency to name and address deeply ingrained biases in their work environments. Many started by issuing statements condemning racism, and expressing commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. This initial step played a pivotal role in raising awareness and initiating conversations within organizations.
  2. Implement Structured Training and Education. Recognizing the importance of dialogue and education, DEI-designated leaders developed town halls, workshops, and training programs to promote awareness of unconscious biases, racism, and discrimination. These programs aimed to empower employees with the knowledge and tools to recognize and combat systemic inequalities. A culture of continuous learning on the many complexities of DEI helped to build a solid foundation for meaningful change.
  3. Build Diverse and Inclusive Workforces. To improve diversity within their ranks, strategies were implemented to attract and retain talent from underrepresented communities. Recruitment practices were revised to eliminate biases and ensure equal opportunities for all candidates. These organizations focused on creating inclusive environments where employees felt valued and supported, regardless of their backgrounds.
  4. Establish Accountability and Transparency. Leaders played a crucial role in driving change by establishing clear accountability measures and fostering transparency. Diversity and inclusion goals were set, progress was tracked, and this information was made accessible to all employees. Transparent reporting allowed organizations to identify gaps and take corrective actions promptly. By holding themselves accountable, leaders created a culture of trust and integrity, ensuring that DEI became integral components of the organizational fabric.
  5. Empowering Employee Resource Groups. Employee resource groups (ERGs) were empowered and provided with the necessary resources and support to thrive. ERGs played a vital role in amplifying diverse voices, providing mentorship, and influencing policies and practices within organizations. Leaders actively engaged with ERGs, seeking input, and leveraging their expertise to drive change.

On one end of the spectrum, organizations that have gotten DEI wrong have served no one. They’ve leaned on safe, outdated practices that are perceived as noncommittal and inauthentic. On the other end, organizations that have gotten DEI right have benefitted from fostering diverse perspectives and experiences, and are now leveraging the inherent value of a psychologically safe and thriving workforce.

Question: What grade would you give your organization for getting DEI right in the past three years?

Taking My Own Medicine: 4 Nuggets I  Want to Share from My Company’s DEI Training Program

Taking My Own Medicine: 4 Nuggets I Want to Share from My Company’s DEI Training Program

One of the most important principles that my team believes in is taking our own medicine. Before we ask a client to take an assessment, we take it first. If we launch a training program, we are the first to sign up. We feel that we can’t genuinely ask someone to experience something that we’re introducing unless we’ve experienced it ourselves.

I just completed Level 1 of our DEI Executive Certificate training program, and I couldn’t be more proud. We developed the program as a hybrid online microlearning platform, plus live weekly group facilitated sessions. This enables participants to break down the complexities of DEI into consumable, engaging bites and build confidence to support each other in our learning journeys. Here are just a few nuggets that I’ve learned so far.

  • Our brains receive approximately 11 million bits of information at any given moment, according to Timothy Wilson, author of Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious. But, since we can only process about 40 of those pieces of information at a time, our brains create shortcuts and use past knowledge to make quick assumptions.


  • It takes our brains approximately 10 seconds to size up someone new when they first come into view. We assess one another on the basis of what we think we can perceive: race, gender, sexual-orientation, intelligence, religion, age, and even wealth.


  • Research indicates that while 60% of CEOs are over 6 feet tall, only 15% of the total population is over 6 feet tall.


  • When there are at least two female candidates in a final hiring pool, the odds of a woman being hired are 79 times greater than if there were only one. Similarly, for people of color, the odds increase 194 times.

This course is helping me understand how my cultural lens has shaped who I am and how I see and engage with the world. Taking the course guided by a masterful facilitator with a small group of DEI practitioners across the U.S. has enabled me to demystify the fundamentals and build confidence. In Level 2, we’ll begin to explore dimensions of diversity that might be part of our personal lenses or lived experiences. Loving this course!

Question: How has your cultural lens shaped who you are and how you engage with the world?


Driven by the premise that excellence is the result of aligning people, purpose and performance, Center for Executive Excellence facilitates training in leading self, leading teams and leading organizations. To learn more, subscribe to receive CEE News!

Meet Seven Women Closing the STEM Gap

Meet Seven Women Closing the STEM Gap

I happened to be in Washington, D.C., visiting the Smithsonian Castle earlier this month when I noticed something curious happening in the gardens just outside. Dozens of life-sized 3D statues of women who have excelled in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) were being set up in honor of Women’s History Month. The Smithsonian called it the largest collection of women statues ever assembled.

The 120 women were selected as Ambassadors by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Lyda Hill Philanthropies for being trailblazers in their fields, and role models for the next generation of women in STEM. Before Women’s History Month 2022 closes, I wanted to share a few stories of the amazing women featured in this project.


1. Joyonna Gamble-George, Health Scientist

What you should know: Studies factors that contribute to health issues in medically underserved populations.

More about her work:  With more than a decade of research expertise in the area of Alzheimer’s disease pathology, anxiety and stress-related disorders, neurotoxicity, drug addiction, and therapeutics, you could say Dr. Joyonna Gamble-George knows a thing or two about the brain! She gives her expertise as a Health Scientist at the National Institutes of Health, National Heart Lung and Blood Disorder Institute. She is also the co-founder of SciX, creating science-based and health-related mobile, wearable applications and devices for monitoring and responding to risk factors responsible for various health conditions, human behaviors, and neuro-sensory thresholds to predict, prevent, and manage life-altering events.



Myria Perez2. Myria Perez, Geologist and Paleontologist

Area of focus: Worked with paleontologist Louis Jacobs to unearth never before seen fossils from Angola.

More about her work: Myria Perez started out as a volunteer at the Houston Museum of Natural Science when she was twelve. She pursued her undergraduate degrees in Geology and Anthropology at Southern Methodist University while working in the fossil labs on campus. During her collegiate years, she conducted research and was a part of a Smithsonian Institution exhibition on Cretaceous marine reptiles from Angola, Sea Monsters Unearthed: Life in Angola’s Ancient Seas. She currently works at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in the Deep Time Fossil Lab, cleaning fossils while inspiring young women in STEM.



Jessica Taaffe3. Jessica Taaffe, Cell and Molecular Biologist

Area of focus: Uses science to tackle global health problems.

More about her work: Dr. Jessica Taaffe is a global health scientist who wants to share her knowledge. She works in Washington, D.C., helping scientists around the world to collaborate and use data science in their infectious disease and global health research. As a global health professional, her goal is to help people, directly impacting global health and international development through policy, advocacy, and communication activities. Her research has focused on tuberculosis, HIV, malaria, influenza and much more. You can catch her as a regular panelist and science correspondent on the Youtube series This Week in Global Health.



4. Ciara Sivels, Nuclear Engineer

Area of focus: Researches nuclear explosion monitoring and treaty verification, and has resulted in four authored publications.

More about her work: Dr. Ciara Sivels is a nuclear engineer, elementary school math mentor, and almost pastry chef who became the first black woman to earn a PhD from the University of Michigan in nuclear engineering and radiological sciences. She now works at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), where she looks at how radiation interacts with and changes the properties of various types of materials. Her work as a math mentor for children she says is one of her highlights, as she hopes if they see someone like her doing something they never knew was possible, it might change their lives.



Charita Castro5. Charita Castro, Social Science Research

Area of focus: Fighting to end child labor, forced labor, and human trafficking with data and research.

More about her: Dr. Castro began her career as a survey statistician at the U.S. Census Bureau under the Presidential Management Fellowship; conducted field research on health hazards to children working on sugarcane farms under a Fulbright Fellowship; and became the inaugural Chief of Research and Policy in the Office of Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking at the U.S. Department of Labor. Dr. Castro has played a leadership role in measuring the prevalence of child labor in West African cocoa production used for chocolate and examining forced labor conditions in the production of electronics, such as cell phones, in Malaysia. This work is not just technical for Dr. Castro. As a child of the Filipino diaspora and daughter of Asian immigrants, research work tugs at her sense of humanity and personal obligation to be in service of others.



6. Dana Bolles, Spaceflight Engineer

Area of focus: Wears many hats at a NASA from engineering to communicating about the search for life beyond Earth.

More about her: Dana Bolles relied on equipment to be independent from the age of 2, which inspired her to become an engineer and work for a space agency. She works for the Science Engagement and Partnerships Division at NASA headquarters in science communications for the search beyond earth. With a visible disability, Dana wants break the stigma and encourage people to not let others bring you down and to believe in yourself. She brings a unique perspective, surpassing expectations on her path. Dana also volunteers for employee resource groups (ERGs) for women, people with disabilities, and LGBT communities.



7.  Wendy Bohon, Geologist

Area of focus: Studies earthquakes and works to improve the communication of earthquake hazard and risk.

More about her: Geologist Wendy Bohon studies earthquakes and works to improve the communication of hazard and risk before, during and after rapid onset geologic hazards. Wendy was pursuing a career in acting until one day she felt everything shaking and she found STEM; now she works as the geologist and science communication specialist for the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology.



Question: Do you know a young woman who is interested in pursuing a career in STEM? Share this with her!

7 Inspiring TED Talks in Honor of Women’s History Month

7 Inspiring TED Talks in Honor of Women’s History Month

Since 1987, March has been designated as Women’s History Month. This year, we are sharing some of the top TED Talks given by women leaders from a gamut of backgrounds. These women use humor, vulnerability, and wisdom to claim permission to step into power, validate women’s experiences, and change the world with their stories.

Here’s a look at seven inspiring TED Talks from remarkable women around the globe.

1. Africa is a Sleeping Giant – I’m Trying to Wake it UpbyAdeola Fayehun

About the speaker: Adeola Fayehun is a Nigerian journalist and political satirist who focuses on geopolitical, social and economic issues affecting Africans. She hosts a satirical news show on YouTube called Keeping It Real with Adeola, produced and published on the “Adeola Fayehun” YouTube channel. Previously, she worked for  SaharaTV.

What her talk is about: Follow along as she roasts corrupt African officials and shows why the continent already has all it needs to take its rightful place on the world stage — if only leaders would start taking responsibility.


2. How to Fix a Broken School? Lead fearlessly. Love Linda Cliatt-Wayman

About the speaker: Linda Cliatt-Wayman is a renowned education leader with an unwavering belief in the potential of all children. Cliatt-Wayman grew up in poverty in North Philadelphia, where she experienced firsthand the injustice perpetuated against poor students in their education. She vowed to dedicate her life to helping as many children escape poverty through education as she could.

What her talk is about: On her first day as principal at a failing high school in North Philadelphia, Cliatt-Wayman was determined to lay down the law. But she soon realized the job was more complex than she thought. With palpable passion, she shares the three principles that helped her turn around three schools labeled “low-performing and persistently dangerous.” Her fearless determination to lead — and to love the students, no matter what — is a model for leaders in all fields.

3. Three Ideas. Three Contradictions. Or Not?by Hannah Gadsby

About the speaker: Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby skewers the straight world’s dismissal and outright hostility toward the LGBTQ community in her stand-up sets, stage performances and television shows.

What her talk is about: Her groundbreaking Netflix special “Nanette” broke comedy. In a talk about truth and purpose, she shares three ideas and three contradictions. Or not.

4. The Legacy of Matriarchs in the Yukon First Nationsby Kluane Adamek

About the speaker: Kluane Adamek, she/her/hers (traditional name is “Aagé”), has served as the Assembly of First Nations Yukon Regional Chief since January 2018. She is a proud northerner and citizen of Kluane First Nation. Regional Chief Adamek belongs to the Dakl’aweidi (Killerwhale) Clan and comes from a diverse background with Tlingit, Southern Tutchone, German and Irish origins.

What her talk is about: In the Yukon First Nations, women lead. Generations of matriarchs have guided and directed the community by forging trade agreements, creating marriage alliances and ensuring business for all. Yukon Regional Chief Kluane Adamek urges others to follow in the legacy of her people by putting more women at the table and encouraging them to seek spaces where their perspectives can create the biggest impact for a better tomorrow.

5. The Lady Stripped Bareby Tracey Spicer

About the speaker: Tracey Spicer is a multiple award winning Australian author, journalist and broadcaster. In 2019 she was named the NSW Premier’s Woman of the Year, accepted the Sydney Peace Prize alongside Tarana Burke for the Me Too movement, and won the national award for Excellence in Women’s Leadership through Women & Leadership Australia.

What her talk is about: Tracey strips away her pulled-together look on stage as she strips back her daily routine and challenges us all to use our time more productively.

6. How I Stopped the Taliban from Shutting Down My Schoolby Sakena Yacoobi

About the speaker: Dr. Sakena Yacoobi is the CEO of the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL), which she founded in 1995 in response to the lack of education and health care that the Afghan people were facing after decades of war and strife. Since its founding, AIL has either directly or indirectly impacted the lives of millions of Afghans. 

What her talk is about: When the Taliban closed all the girls’ schools in Afghanistan, Sakena Yacoobi set up new schools, in secret, educating thousands of women and men. In this fierce, funny talk, she tells the jaw-dropping story of two times when she was threatened to stop teaching — and shares her vision for rebuilding her beloved country.

7. It’s Time for Women to Run for Officeby Halla Tómasdóttir

About the speaker: Tómasdóttir co-founded Audur Capital, one of few financial companies in Iceland to survive the financial meltdown in 2007. In 2016, responding to popular demand, she ran for president of Iceland. She was an unlikely candidate, with polls predicting one percent of the vote only 45 days before the election. A few weeks later, against all odds, she came in second, supported by 28% of Icelanders.

What her talk is about: With warmth and wit, Halla Tómasdóttir shares how she overcame media bias, changed the tone of the political debate and surprised her entire nation when she ran for president of Iceland — inspiring the next generation of leaders along the way. “What we see, we can be,” she says. “It matters that women run.” 

Question: Which of these remarkable women from around the world inspire you to be a better leader from where you are?


Driven by the premise that excellence is the result of aligning people, purpose and performance, Center for Executive Excellence facilitates training in leading self, leading teams and leading organizations. To learn more, subscribe to receive CEE News!

Can You Pass This U.S. Women’s History Quiz?

Can You Pass This U.S. Women’s History Quiz?

In celebration of Women’s History Month, here’s a quiz called “What Women Could Do in the U.S. and When They Could Do It.” Check it out and see how many you can guess right and how many surprise you. You’ll find the correct answers at the bottom of this post.

1. In 1970, women were not allowed to do which of the following:

A. Have a baby out of wedlock

B. File no fault divorce

C. Drive without a man in the car

D. Buy a house

2. It wasn’t until 1972 that women could run:

A. For the U.S. Olympic team

B. For State governor

C. In the Boston marathon

D. For Congress

3. Before 1974, a woman could be refused:

A. A credit card

B. The right to run for president

C. Birth control

D. A driver’s license

4. In 1975, women could finally do this in all 50 states:

A. Go to college

B. Own property

C. File for divorce

D. Serve on a jury

5. Up until 1978, a woman could legally be fired from her job for being:

A. Overweight

B. Divorced

C. Pregnant

D. Married

6. It wasn’t until 1980 that women could report:

A. For jury duty

B. Harassment in the workplace

C. For military service

D. As a foreign correspondent

7. In 1983, women could finally go to:

A. All Ivy League schools

B. Commercial flight schools

C. Professional golf tournaments

D. Cigar lounges

8. It wasn’t until 1993 that women could:

A. Own a gym

B. Adopt a child as a single parent

C. Wear pants in Congress

D. Be an astronaut

9. Until 2010, women were routinely charged more for:

A. Prescription drugs

B. Cigarettes

C. Health insurance

D. Over-the-counter drugs

Answers: 1) File a no fault divorce; 2) Boston marathon; 3) A credit card; 4) Serve on a jury; 5) Pregnant; 6) Harassment in the workplace; 7) All Ivy League schools; 8) Wear pants in Congress and Be an astronaut; 9) Health insurance

Question: Which of these facts about women’s rights in the U.S. surprise you?

Driven by the premise that excellence is the result of aligning people, purpose and performance, Center for Executive Excellence facilitates training in leading self, leading teams and leading organizations. To learn more, subscribe to receive CEE News!

10 Books to Celebrate Women’s History Month

10 Books to Celebrate Women’s History Month

As a certified Women-Owned business, we are celebrating Women’s History Month 2022 by highlighting books by ten amazing women. These recent titles depict women who have pushed boundaries, affected change, redefined roles, and enriched our understanding of what it means to be powerful.

1. The Long Game: How to Be a Long-Term Thinker in a Short-Term World by Dorie Clark

What it’s about:  As top business thinker and Duke University professor Dorie Clark explains, we all know intellectually that lasting success takes persistence and effort. And yet so much of the relentless pressure in our culture pushes us toward doing what’s easy, what’s guaranteed, or what looks glamorous in the moment. In The Long Game, she argues for a different path—doing small things over time to achieve our goals—and being willing to keep at them, even when they seem pointless, boring, or hard.

Clark shares unique principles and frameworks you can apply to your situation, as well as vivid stories from her own career and other professionals’ experiences. Everyone is allotted the same twenty-four hours—but with the right strategies, you can leverage those hours in more efficient and powerful ways than you ever imagined. It’s never an overnight process, but the long-term payoff is immense: to finally break out of the frenetic day-to-day routine and transform your life and your career.


2. Mission Economy: A Moonshot Guide to Changing Capitalism by Mariana Mazzucato

What it’s about:  An award-winning author and leading international economist delivers a hard-hitting and much needed critique of modern capitalism in which she argues that, to solve the massive crises facing us, we must be innovative—we must use collaborative, mission-oriented thinking while also bringing a stakeholder view of public private partnerships which means not only taking risks together but also sharing the rewards.

Mission Economy looks at the grand challenges facing us in a radically new way. Global warming, pollution, dementia, obesity, gun violence, mobility—these environmental, health, and social dilemmas are huge, complex, and have no simple solutions. Mariana Mazzucato argues we need to think bigger and mobilize our resources in a way that is as bold and inspirational as the moon landing—this time to the most ‘wicked’ social problems of our time. We can only begin to find answers if we fundamentally restructure capitalism to make it inclusive, sustainable, and driven by innovation that tackles concrete problems from the digital divide, to health pandemics, to our polluted cities. That means changing government tools and culture, creating new markers of corporate governance, and ensuring that corporations, society, and the government coalesce to share a common goal.


3. Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience by Brené Brown

What it’s about: In Atlas of the Heart, Brown takes us on a journey through eighty-seven of the emotions and experiences that define what it means to be human. As she maps the necessary skills and an actionable framework for meaningful connection, she gives us the language and tools to access a universe of new choices and second chances—a universe where we can share and steward the stories of our bravest and most heartbreaking moments with one another in a way that builds connection.

Over the past two decades, Brown’s extensive research into the experiences that make us who we are has shaped the cultural conversation and helped define what it means to be courageous with our lives. Atlas of the Heart draws on this research, as well as on Brown’s singular skills as a storyteller, to show us how accurately naming an experience doesn’t give the experience more power—it gives us the power of understanding, meaning, and choice.


4. In the Shadow of the Mountain: A Memoir of Courage by Silvia Vasquez-Lavado

What it’s about: Endless ice. Thin air. The threat of dropping into nothingness thousands of feet below. This is the climb Silvia Vasquez-Lavado braves in her page-turning, pulse-raising memoir following her journey to Mount Everest.

A Latina hero in the elite macho tech world of Silicon Valley, privately, she was hanging by a thread. Deep in the throes of alcoholism, hiding her sexuality from her family, and repressing the abuse she’d suffered as a child, she started climbing. Something about the brute force required for the ascent—the risk and spirit and sheer size of the mountains and death’s close proximity—woke her up. She then took her biggest pain as a survivor to the biggest mountain: Everest.


5. Work Won’t Love You Back: How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted, and Alone by Sarah Jaffe

What it’s about: In Work Won’t Love You Back, Sarah Jaffe, a preeminent voice on labor, inequality, and social movements, examines this “labor of love” myth—the idea that certain work is not really work, and therefore should be done out of passion instead of pay. Told through the lives and experiences of workers in various industries—from the unpaid intern, to the overworked teacher, to the nonprofit worker and even the professional athlete—Jaffe reveals how all of us have been tricked into buying into a new tyranny of work.

As Jaffe argues, understanding the trap of the labor of love will empower us to work less and demand what our work is worth. And once freed from those binds, we can finally figure out what actually gives us joy, pleasure, and satisfaction.


6. Where You Are Is Not Who You Are: A Memoir by Ursula M. Burns

What it’s about: In this smart, no-nonsense book, part memoir and part cultural critique, former Xerox Corporation CEO Ursula Burns writes movingly about her journey from tenement housing on Manhattan’s Lower East Side to the highest echelons of the corporate world. She credits her success to her poor single Panamanian mother, Olga Racquel Burns—a licensed child-care provider whose highest annual income was $4,400—who set no limits on what her children could achieve. Ursula recounts her own dedication to education and hard work, and how she took advantage of the opportunities and social programs created by the Civil Rights and Women’s movements to pursue engineering at Polytechnic Institute of New York.

Candid and outspoken, Ursula offers a remarkable look inside the c-suites of corporate America through the eyes of a Black woman—someone who puts humanity over greed and justice over power. She compares the impact of the pandemic to the financial crisis of 2007, condemns how corporate culture is destroying the spirit of democracy, and worries about the workers whose lives are being upended by technology. Empathetic and dedicated, idealistic and pragmatic, Ursula demonstrates that, no matter your circumstances, hard work, grit and a bit of help along the way can change your life—and the world.


7. Inspiring Generational Leadership: Your Guide to Design a Conscious Culture by DeLinda Forsythe

What it’s about: In Inspiring Generational Leadership, DeLinda Forsythe shares her passion and success in developing tomorrow’s leaders. This guide takes readers on a journey revealing the financial, societal, and emotional benefits in leading, building, or working for a conscious business enterprise. DeLinda field-tested her leadership concepts for fifteen years at Innovative Commercial Environments, San Diego’s most creative and resilient office furniture dealership. As Founder and CEO of ICE, DeLinda discovered how to effortlessly partner with millennial coworkers to cocreate policies that led to industry-defying growth and financial stability—even through crisis. Her thorough research confirms the alignment of millennial values when organizations incorporate tenets of conscious capitalism in partnership with emerging neuroscience data and emotional and spiritual intelligence.

DeLinda’s absorbing storytelling style and her inclusion of intimate interviews with other conscious leaders and educators guides readers along the rewarding mentoring path. Inspiring Generational Leadership provides tools to create an ideal workplace for leaders and their organizations that is passionately alive with ethical values and purpose.


8. Origin: A Genetic History of the Americas by Jennifer Raff

What it’s about: Origin is the story of who the first peoples in the Americas were, how and why they made the crossing, how they dispersed south, and how they lived based on a new and powerful kind of evidence: their complete genomes. Origin provides an overview of these new histories throughout North and South America, and a glimpse into how the tools of genetics reveal details about human history and evolution.

20,000 years ago, people crossed a great land bridge from Siberia into Western Alaska and then dispersed southward into what is now called the Americas. Until we venture out to other worlds, this remains the last time our species has populated an entirely new place, and this event has been a subject of deep fascination and controversy. No written records—and scant archaeological evidence—exist to tell us what happened or how it took place. Many different models have been proposed to explain how the Americas were peopled and what happened in the thousands of years that followed. A study of both past and present, Origin explores how genetics is currently being used to construct narratives that profoundly impact Indigenous peoples of the Americas. It serves as a primer for anyone interested in how genetics has become entangled with identity in the way that society addresses the question “Who is indigenous?”


9. Beautiful Country by Qian Julie Wang

What it’s about: In Chinese, the word for America, Mei Guo, translates directly to “beautiful country.” Yet when seven-year-old Qian arrives in New York City in 1994 full of curiosity, she is overwhelmed by crushing fear and scarcity. In China, Qian’s parents were professors; in America, her family is “illegal”, and it will require all the determination and small joys they can muster to survive. In Chinatown, Qian’s parents labor in sweatshops. Instead of laughing at her jokes, they fight constantly, taking out the stress of their new life on one another. Shunned by her classmates and teachers for her limited English, Qian takes refuge in the library and masters the language through books, coming to think of The Berenstain Bears as her first American friends.

When Qian’s headstrong Ma Ma collapses, revealing an illness that she has kept secret for months for fear of the cost and scrutiny of a doctor’s visit. As Ba Ba retreats further inward, Qian has little to hold onto beyond his constant refrain: Whatever happens, say that you were born here, that you’ve always lived here. Inhabiting her childhood perspective with exquisite lyric clarity and unforgettable charm and strength, Qian Julie Wang has penned an essential American story about a family fracturing under the weight of invisibility, and a girl coming of age in the shadows, who never stops seeking the light.


10. South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of the Nation by Imani Perry

What it’s about: This is the story of a Black woman and native Alabaman returning to the region she has always called home and considering it with fresh eyes. Her journey is full of detours, deep dives, and surprising encounters with places and people. She renders Southerners from all walks of life with sensitivity and honesty, sharing her thoughts about a troubling history and the ritual humiliations and joys that characterize so much of Southern life.

Weaving together stories of immigrant communities, contemporary artists, exploitative opportunists, enslaved peoples, unsung heroes, her own ancestors, and her lived experiences, Imani Perry crafts a tapestry unlike any other. With uncommon insight and breathtaking clarity, South to America offers an assertion that if we want to build a more humane future for the United States, we must center our concern below the Mason-Dixon Line.

Question: Which of these titles will be on your reading list this year?