Gloucester Reads
3 Ways to Participate

Sign up for a free community book group exploring the history of slavery in America.

Participate in any or all 3 ways.


In his book "How the Word is Passed," Clint Smith takes us on a tour across America to reveal the hidden history of slavery while inviting us to experience the healing power of knowledge.


Share your thoughts and questions in a facilitated discussion group.


Clint Smith, a warm, funny and earnest public speaker, will appear virtually at a live

community event.

#1 Read the book
How the word is Passed book cover

How the Word is Passed

by Clint Smith

Publisher’s Website

What we learn in school, both about American and Black American history, is incomplete. At a time when we in the United States are grappling with our understanding of race, Clint Smith offers us a more thorough history.

In this excerpt from the Prologue, he writes:

“It seems that the more purposefully some places have attempted to tell the truth about their proximity to slavery and its aftermath, the more staunchly other places have refused. I wanted to visit some of these places — those telling the truth, those running from it, and those doing something in between — in order to understand this reckoning.”

Among the sites Smith visited:

Monticello Plantation, where he examines the inconsistent legacy of Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration of Independence AND enslaved six hundred people.

Whitney Plantation in Louisiana, where visitors hear firsthand accounts of slavery recorded by the people who experienced enslavement.

New York City, which abolished slavery in 1827, but where Smith unearths the city’s centuries-long relationship with slavery and racial inequity.

Click here to borrow a physical copy from the Sawyer Free Library

Click here to borrow the ebook or audiobook through Overdrive if you are on a computer

Click here to borrow the ebook or audiobook through the Libby App if you are on a mobile device

Books borrowed on Overdrive or Libby will be available on both platforms wherever you are logged in.

#2 Discuss in a group

Sign up here to participate in a discussion group. Feel free to register for any group; you do not need to be a member of an organization to attend. A range of days and times will be available. Please look for a complete list of discussion groups on July 1.

Each group will give you, the reader, the chance to reflect on your own and others’ experience of the book. Two facilitators will work with each group to create safe and welcoming conversation.

We have a small fund to pay for childcare if that would allow you to attend a discussion group. When you register, please indicate that you would like reimbursement for childcare. The discussion group leader will give you the funds when you attend.




Registration Link

Temple Ahavat Achim

Sun. July 28


1623 Studios

Mon. July 29


Annisquam Village Church

Tues. July 30


St. Paul Lutheran Church

Tues. July 30


Manship Artist Residencies

@ Lanesville Community Center

Tues. August 6


St. John’s Episcopal Church

Thurs. August 8


Gloucester Writers Center

Mon. August 12


Gloucester UU Church

Thurs. August 22


#3 Attend Author Talk
Clint Smith author photo

Tuesday, September 10, 2024

Gloucester Stage Company

267 East Main Street

Doors open: 6:30pm

Program begins: 7:00pm

Clint Smith appears virtually: 7:15-8:15pm

Further discussion: 8:15-9:00pm

Clint Smith will offer a summary of “How the Word is Passed” and read an excerpt or two. He will then take pre-submitted questions from a panel of local community members.

Following Mr. Smith’s appearance, there will be a conversation about how we can apply what we have learned right here in Gloucester.

“Clint is a powerful presenter. He challenges us to reckon with our past honestly, proactively, and precisely.”

— The Lavin Agency

“Dr. Clint Smith was a resounding success! He was superb. He dazzled and captivated the attendees with an amazing presentation of the impact and effect of slavery. We highly recommend Clint Smith.”

— Urban League of Hampton Roads

Teen Book and Children's Book

Gloucester Reads wants people of all ages to read a recommended book that is both engaging and educational. This year’s teen novel is a murder mystery in which three boys of color are accused of murder. They cunningly work together to discover the truth. The children’s book is a clear and simple explanation of the range of humanity’s skin colors.

Teen Book

The Promise Boys

Nick Brooks

Publisher’s Website

When someone murders the renowned founder of an oppressively rigorous Washington, D.C., school, three students—all boys of color—emerge as prime suspects. The police haul in a trio of Urban Promise Prep students, two Black and one Salvadoran, for questioning following the murder of Principal Kenneth Moore. At Urban Promise, one false move can cost a college-bound future.

Unfortunately, all three boys engaged in public spats with Principal Moore before his death; to clear their names, they must investigate and uncover the killer’s identity. Featuring a sharp examination of systemic inequality in urban schools and Black and Latine boyhood, this novel delivers in spades. (modified, from Kirkus Reviews)

Nick Brooks, author of Promise Boys
Promise Boys cover

Children’s Picture Book

Our Skin, A First Conversation About Race

Jessica Ralli and Megan Madison

Illustrated by Isabel Roxas

Publisher’s Website

While young children are avid observers and questioners of their world, adults often shut down or postpone conversations on complicated topics because it’s hard to know where to begin. Research shows that talking about issues like race and gender from the age of two not only helps children understand what they see, but also increases self-awareness, self-esteem, and allows them to recognize and confront things that are unfair, like discrimination and prejudice.

Developed by experts in the fields of early childhood and activism against injustice, this topic-driven picture book begins the conversation on race, with a supportive approach that considers both the child and the adult. (modified, from Penguin Random House)

Read Aloud by the Author!

Our Skin book cover

At the Juneteenth event on June 16 at the Cape Ann Museum, stop by the Gloucester Racial Justice Team table from noon to 4pm and get your own pack of skin color crayons and pages to color.

Recommended Reading

Five people from the Gloucester Racial Justice Team created a set of criteria for selecting one book for adults, one for teens, and one for children. From an initial list of 35 choices for the adult book, the group selected How the Word is Passed.

The books below were close runners-up and are highly recommended.

Just Mercy book cover

Just Mercy tells the story of the Equal Justice Initiative, from the early days with a small staff facing the nation’s highest death sentencing and execution rates, through a successful campaign to challenge the cruel practice of sentencing children to die in prison, to revolutionary projects designed to confront Americans with our history of racial injustice.

(modified, from EJI)

His Name is George Floyd book cover

His Name is George Floyd

Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa

Publisher's Website

Check out the book from the library

A landmark biography by two prizewinning Washington Post reporters that reveals how systemic racism shaped George Floyd’s life and legacy—from his family’s roots in the tobacco fields of North Carolina, to ongoing inequality in housing, education, health care, criminal justice, and policing—telling the story of how one man’s tragic experience brought about a global movement for change.

(from Penguin Random House)

Envisioned as a response to The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin’s groundbreaking 1963 essay collection, in this collection Jesmyn Ward gathers our most original thinkers and writers to speak on contemporary racism and race, including Carol Anderson, Jericho Brown, Edwidge Danticat, Kevin Young, Claudia Rankine, and Honoree Jeffers. The Fire This Time shines a light on the darkest corners of our history, wrestles with our current predicament, and imagines a better future.

(modified, from Simon and Schuster)

The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store book cover

The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store

James McBride

Publisher's Website

Check out the book from the library

Also available on our pre-loaded eReaders

"A murder mystery locked inside a Great American Novel" - New York Times Book Review

As the characters’ stories overlap and deepen, it becomes clear how much the people who live on the margins of white, Christian America struggle and what they must do to survive. When the truth is finally revealed about what happened on Chicken Hill and the part the town’s white establishment played in it, McBride shows us that even in dark times, it is love and community—heaven and earth—that sustain us.

(modified, from Penguin Random House)

The Hate U Give book cover

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer.

Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

(modified, from Harper Collins)

About Gloucester Reads

Gloucester Reads is a book reading group for the entire city that explores the rich tapestry of the African American experience. Now in its second year, Gloucester Reads is a collaboration between the Gloucester Racial Justice Team, the Sawyer Free Library and multiple local co-sponsoring organizations.

The mission of the Gloucester Racial Justice Team — to create a safe and welcoming city where people from all races, ethnicities, and cultures can flourish — sets the stage for this community-wide journey.

The Sawyer Free Library, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, added this statement to its website: “The Sawyer Free Library staff and our Library Board support all those working to end systemic racism, inequality, and other barriers that limit opportunity within our city and our country. The Sawyer Free Library welcomes everyone, and is dedicated to fostering an active and inclusive community.”

Together, the Gloucester Racial Justice Team and the Sawyer Free Library invite you to participate in our collective endeavor, one that promises not only to enlighten us but also to spur us to action.

Gloucester Racial Justice Team
Sawyer Free Library
Action Inc.
1623 Studios
The Open Door
Susie's Stories
The Bookstore of Gloucester
Gloucester Writers Center
Backyard Growers
Gloucester Meetinghouse Foundation
Gloucester Stage

Gloucester Housing Authority

Gloucester Health Department

Cape Ann YMCA

Gloucester Unitarian Universalist Church
Temple Ahavat Achim Gloucester
Annisquam Village Church
Manship Artists Residency
Cape Ann Museum

St. Paul’s Lutheran Church

St. John’s Episcopal Church

West Gloucester Trinitarian Church

Greater Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce
Pathways for Children

Gloucester Human Rights Commission

21 Main Street

Gloucester, MA


Website produced by the Sawyer Free Library in conjunction with the Gloucester Racial Justice Team. 2024