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  • Brian Boyles

This Is Your Democracy: New Essays on Civic Engagement

Brian Boyles, Executive Director of Mass Humanities, introduces us to the newest anthology of writing from Clemente Course graduates, This Is Your Democracy


Clemente graduate Onyedikachi Nwogu

In spring 2021, fifty-five graduates of the Clemente Course in the Humanities enrolled in a special course exploring civic engagement. The focus of the course was apt for a nation grappling with political conflicts and a global pandemic; in fact, the first online classes began the day before the January 6 attack on the Capitol.

That week, scholars hailing from seventeen Massachusetts communities read excerpts from the memoir of a civil rights legend, Congressman John Lewis. Over five weeks, the classes studied the movements for LGBTQ+ rights, rights for people with disabilities, Indigenous rights, criminal justice reform and other issues. Readings and class discussions required each scholar “to read widely, think critically, and write ethically about different movements” for equality and justice.

Read: "Speaking Out for Members of My Community" by Onyedikachi Nwogu

As the classes tackled works by Stacey Abrams, David France, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Jessie Little Doe Baird, and others, the participants did what Clemente scholars do every year, powerfully and fearlessly: they related the struggles of other Americans to their own challenges. As a final assignment, the scholars wrote about the connections they saw between their lives and civic engagement. This Is Your Democracy is the culmination of their efforts.

Read: "Recognizing the Need for Civic Engagement" by M. Toni McComb Hall

The essays in This Is Your Democracy look at the commitments we make to justice, not only through protests and voting, but also as friends and family members. In writing about hunger and homelessness, the Clemente scholars remind us that compassion between individuals is a service that benefits all of us. Several stories reflect the journeys of immigrants, from the hardships faced in countries of origin to their lives in Massachusetts.

Read: "Lessons Learned from an Empty Pot" by Suzan Khan

For these writers, bad policies show up on street corners and in classrooms, so civic engagement includes aiding friends affected by those policies. These essays connect personal histories to a fuller understanding of the history of our nation, the decisions of a family with the conditions in a city. Their embrace of our responsibilities to one another recalls the words of John Lewis, who said, “Democracy is not a state. It’s an act.”

We hope you will share the writings in This Is Your Democracy with your friends, family and elected officials. We thank the Clemente community, supporters, and faculty for supporting the project. Most of all, we are grateful to the writers who made time to consider what our democracy means to each of them, and why it belongs to all of us.

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