Between the Lines: Books as Powerful Launchpads for Critical Conversations

By: Linda Hughes-Kirchubel, committee member of PRSA Tampa Bay's Diversity & Inclusion Committee

For millions of us, change was the hallmark of 2020. As we managed through these challenges, we reimagined and reconstituted definitions of “normal,” moved our offices to our kitchen tables, and enjoyed happy hour meetups online. Technology kept us together, but communication built resilience during disruptive times.

In late December, weary of my incessant obligations to online platforms, I began to reprioritize reading for pleasure. I banned my cell phone from my living room, opened a book, and discovered not just escape, but enrichment. Always a two-fisted reader, I chose one “light” book, and one that tackled a serious, timely topic. My best friend, hearing my plan, offered to “buddy read” with me. I was grateful for the opportunity to discuss books that have been had been identified as powerful, important, and socially significant.

Throughout the past year, PRSA and PRSA Tampa Bay, have both taken important action to prioritize creating a more diverse and inclusive community of PR professionals. Books can be powerful launching pads for conversations on these important issues. Our first choice: Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize winner, The Underground Railroad. This novel starkly and heartbreakingly illustrates societal and structural cruelty, apathy, and indifference, and what happens when hope and courage collide with institutions that have woven torture and enslavement into their fabric. It was an appropriate precursor to our next book, Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. Clearly, passionately, Caste articulates the savagery of European slave traders, owners, and bystanders who collectively contributed to systemic racism that we grapple with today.

Discussing the books, my friend and I sought to interrogate our own assumptions, unconscious bias, and structural privilege, and as tools toward this end, the importance of these books cannot be overstated. We discussed the difficulty in negotiating these truths through the lens of our own skin color, which is white; how we were never the target of an ugly racial slur; how we never worried that authorities would unfairly target our teens for walking down the street. These books are painfully motivating. Neither of us can close these books and move on, unchanged for having read them.

So, what are you reading, or have read, that challenges your preconceived notions, exposes your biases, or helps you understand others just a little better? Share these works with us below, adding a short summary so we can continue the discovery as well as these important conversations.


Linda Hughes-Kirchubel, PhD, is a communication strategist and member of PRSA Tampa Bay’s Diversity and Inclusion committee. As owner of LHK Solutions, she provides marketing and communication services for national, regional and local organizations, and is also adjunct professor at the University of Tampa.

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  1. Kaley E. Infield, APR

    Feb. 19, 2021

    Totally agree! I recently finished Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. To call it required reading is an absolute understatement.

  2. Kecia Carroll

    Feb. 19, 2021

    Many people have suggested "When They Call You a Terrorist" by Patrisse Khan-Cullors, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement. Has anyone read it? Thoughts? Would love to read it with others and discuss.

  3. Shayla O'Keeffe

    Feb. 19, 2021

    Love this and agree books are a great channel for bringing to light important topics and conversations. At work, I led a book club with "Hidden Figures" since we're a STEM-related company. It was a great way to incorporate Black History learning with our current industry, making it relevant and personal for our employees.