One Book, One Community sees changes for 2021

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Monroe County organizations have made changes to 2021’s upcoming One Book, One Community events.

Every year, the OBOC program encourages the community to read a selected book so it can be discussed and understood  as a community every year.

The goal of the program is to foster a love of reading and learning, bringing the community together in the process.

This year’s book selection is “The Vanishing Half” by Brit Bennett.

Jennifer Saul is coordinating the One Book, One Community program for the first time this year.

She is an employee of MCCC and the Monroe County Library System, two of the founding members of the program, and worked on the committee last year.

Saul said planning on this year’s program started in May.

She said the selection committee starts by generating a list of titles based on books members have personally enjoyed along with books that have received good reviews and recognition.

“We read many books and discuss each one that we feel is a contender and this year we looked over numerous titles,” Saul said. “And we kept going until we found a title all four people on the selection committee enjoyed, and that we felt would bring something to our community and our program.”

One Book One Community’s book choice for 2021, “The Vanishing Half,” by Brit Bennett.

Saul hopes the book engages people in talking about difficult issues.

“This book approaches racism from a different perspective than most books. We hope this causes people to think more about the topic and discuss it in a meaningful and constructive way,” she said. “We also just hope that they enjoy the book and continue reading.”

Saul said the program involves many people from different parts of the community.

There are professors and teachers at MCCC and local high schools who teach the novel, so there is a lot of student participation, Saul said.

There are also many book clubs around the county that read the novel and participate in OBOC events.

“Education is important, and reading is one of the best ways to further your education,” Saul said. “Books teach empathy and understanding, and those are always traits that we should promote.”

Saul said she thinks that 2020 has been a divisive year and everyone needs to embrace anything that brings them together as a community.

 Saul said the program is not looking for sponsors this year in the same way as previous years.

“We had money left over from last year’s canceled events due to COVID-19 and we are working on using that as our budget instead of asking for donors again,” she said. “Budgets are tight everywhere this year so we really didn’t want to ask for money, especially since we had a reserve.”

OBOC does not have any backup plans in case of another event cancellation.

Right now, the program has continued planning under the assumption that most events and interactions will be online.

Brit Bennett, author of “The Vanishing Half,” is scheduled to hold a Zoom presentation on March 25.

OBOC is also working on several smaller Zoom presentations on other topics and will increase more social media interaction and online materials to compensate for the online shift.

Rachel Eagle, administrative assistant to the dean of Humanities/Social Sciences, said the events calendar is still being finalized, planning events with more flexibility in mind for this year’s events.

“We are going to have events using video conferencing and record them so people can participate after for a limited time, encourage participation through our Facebook page,” Eagle said. “We have some ideas we will be doing with the Monroe Evening News, just to name a few.”

Eagle said in previous years, OBOC held a lot of in-person events. She said these past several months have given the planning committee the opportunity to evaluate OBOC programming.

“If our virtual events go well, I think the future may encourage us to plan a variety of in-person and virtual events to help capture a wider and more diverse audience,” Eagle said. “I am hoping, with this year, that we encourage more people to participate who might have not been able to before. “

Saul said the online-based program this year will be very different, but will also still be exciting, fun and educational.

“I think we have to go into this year’s events expecting everything to look different,” Saul said. “While I loved our in-person events in the past, I think we need to embrace the fact that we can’t do that this year and force ourselves out of our comfort zone and into new types of events.”