Book Review: Call & Response: The Story of Black Lives Matter

Title: Call & Response: The Story of Black Lives Matter

Author: Veronica Chambers and Jennifer Harlan

Genres:  Non-fiction

Pages: 152

Publisher: Versify

Review Copy: ARC by publisher

Availability: Available now

Summary: Call and Response: The Story of Black Lives Matter is a broad and powerful exploration of the history of Black Lives Matter told through photographs, quotes, and informative text by New York Times best-selling authors Veronica Chambers and Jennifer Harlan.

In 2020, the world watched history being made in the streets of America. The rallying cry of Black Lives Matter captured global attention and spurred thousands of people of all ages, races, genders, and backgrounds to stand up for major progressive social reform. The widespread protests, rooted in the call-and-response tradition of the Black community, were fueled by a growing understanding for many that systemic racism undermines the very nature of democracy. But where did this movement begin? And why, after years of work by everyday people, did the world finally begin to take notice?

Call and Response: The Story of Black Lives Matter covers the rise of Black Lives Matter and how it has been shaped by U.S. history. From the founders of the movement—Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi—to the watershed moments that challenged people to take action, this book tells the story of how a hashtag became a movement. It follows the activists and organizers on their journeys, examines some of the ways that protest has been fundamental to American history, and shows how marches, rallies, and demonstrations can be vital tools for making meaningful change.

In this essential history, New York Times editors Veronica Chambers and Jennifer Harlan explore Black Lives Matter through striking photographs, in-depth reporting, stunning visual timelines and graphics, and compelling quotes. Call and Response is perfect for young readers who need an introduction to this impactful movement—and for any reader looking for concrete information on this timely topic.

Review: As often happens, I begin reading a book for enjoyment, then end up realizing the book would be fabulous in my classroom and end up reading the book as a teacher. As I read Call & Response: The Story of Black Lives Matter, the opposite happened. I knew before I started that I would most likely use this book as a supplemental in my classroom but as I continued to read, I really began to enjoy it. It was very informative, but told in a manner that was easy to read and entertaining. It read as if I was having a conversation with the authors about the history of the movement and the impact it had. I felt at home as I read, and learned, about the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

A compilation of a series of interviews, news articles, photos, etc., the book begins with a reflection on the summer of 2020 when the world came together to protest against police brutality and, for a moment, understood what the term Black Lives Matter means. Because this is a story of the movement, the book then gives us a history of how Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors came to activism and ended up creating the Black Lives Matter hashtag and movement. Each of the three had already been activists on different personal causes and connected through a Black leadership network. Then, after George Zimmerman was acquitted of the murder of Trayvon Martin, in her grief Alicia Garza posted on Facebook “Black people. I love you. I love us. Our Lives Matter.” Then Cullors added to the post putting the famous hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. It took off from there. Tometi then suggested that the activists take it a step further by utilizing social media and the movement was born. For me, reading this story was fascinating because I didn’t know how the three started the movement. I remember the hashtag when it first appeared on social media and was moved by it, so learning how the three activists came together to create a world-changing movement was enlightening. 

The book continues on to share the story of how Black Lives Matter movement grew while at the same time sharing comparisons to the Civil Rights movement. The book just didn’t give the basic “Civil Rights highlights” that schools give, but gave more in depth information about the strategies used by Civil Rights activists and how the leaders of the BLM movement used those same strategies but also improved upon them. The book also highlighted the Black Power movement and how those beliefs and strategies also influenced BLM. It was those sections that I felt would be extremely useful in the classroom so kids can learn about their history, told to them in a manner that speaks to them, rather than as a history book. The book also highlighted how musicians and artists are inspired by the movement and use their talents to bring about change. One favorite section of mine was the photo essay of the different murals that have been created referencing the BLM movement. There is even a playlist for both the Civil Rights movement and BLM in the book. I definitely intend on sharing some of those song with my students. 

Lastly, this book is filled to the brim with pictures from the first protests, to Ferguson, to the summer of 2020. It is also filled with stories from folks who were on the ground of all ages. It highlights how BLM started with 3 women and grew to become a large network that included a diverse group of people to bring about change. The book ends with encouraging young people that they too have a voice and can use it. If you have young activists in your life, or want to encourage a teen to raise their voice, share with them this book. Let them learn how change happens and that they can be a part of the movement too.