Editor's Note

These are historic times for Charleston. This summer, our city bore witness to an act that recalled its darkest days: the racially-motivated massacre of nine African-American parishioners and community leaders in the state’s most historic Black church.

Since that horrific June night, much has shown that this is not the past. Love and support and flowers and money and food have flooded the city and Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in an unprecedented groundswell of solidarity. The Confederate flag, for so long a symbol and source of entrenched opposition within this state and across the nation, went down with a whimper. It seems, and we're told, that much has changed.

And yet—much hasn't changed, and needs to. Racism's roots run deep. While we can all easily disavow the work of a hate-filled and wayward young man, it is less easy to confront the insidious societal forces that shaped him and the ideology to which he subscribes. It is less easy to acknowledge that indifference and ignorance, over time, can be more dangerous than an assault rifle in the hands of a terrorist.

Real change starts with honest conversation. This fall, Wide Angle Lunches and the Charleston Library Society will host a sustained conversation over five weeks. Our speakers are educators and activists, thinkers and doers. They are committed both to understanding the past and charting the future. I hope you will join this critical conversation and learn how we might turn last summer's suffering into a better, fairer, stronger Charleston.

— Ceara Donnelley

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Thursday 15 October 2015

Patricia Williams Lessane
No Sanctuary in Charleston

"We must...resist the comfortable fiction that, whatever racial turmoil exists elsewhere, genteel Charleston is a place of calm."

So wrote Patricia Williams Lessane in the New York Times, just one day after the shooting of nine parishioners at Mother Emanual A.M.E. church in downtown Charleston. Dr. Lessane is uniquely qualified to explore what it today means to be Black, both in Charleston and across the nation. A native Chicagoan whose parents, like many African-Americans, migrated to the north in the 1950s in search of opportunity and a better life, Dr. Lessane returned to the south in 2010—also in search of a better life for her family. Offered the job of Executive Director of the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture at the College of Charleston, Dr. Lessane, in her words, "jumped at the chance to leave the violence of Chicago's South Side to forge a life in a safer, culturally rich community." The events of the last year in Charleston, and in so many towns across the country, suggest that there may be no such thing for many African-Americans.

Dr. Lessane came to Charleston having studied and/or worked at a wide range of institutions, from Fisk University to the Field Museum, with stops at Dartmouth and Harvard in between. She was named one of Charlie Magazine's 50 Most Progressive People in 2013 and, in addition to running the Avery Center, she is currently co-editing two volumes of work: We Carry These Memories Inside of We: Celebrating Daughters of the Dust and the Blacks Arts Aesthetic of Julie Dash and Dreams Deferred, Promises and Struggles: Perceptions and Interrogations of Empire, Nation, and Society. She lives in Charleston with her two beautiful and precocious children.

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Thursday 22 October 2015

Ben Navarro
Challenging the Status Quo

Ben Navarro is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Charleston-based Sherman Financial Group, but he is equally known for his other passion: education, and the belief that all children deserve the opportunity to attend a great school. His primary philanthropic venture is Meeting Street Schools (2008–present), a network of schools (independent and public) designed to bring college preparatory education to under-resourced students in South Carolina. With on-the-ground experience starting and running successful schools that serve some of the state’s most underserved communities, Mr. Navarro is committed to changing the future of education in South Carolina.

Before coming to Charleston, Mr. Navarro spent thirteen years in the finance and mortgage industries, working at Citicorp, Goldman Sachs and Chemical Bank, building upon his a B.S. in Finance from the University of Rhode Island. The son of former college football coach Frank Navarro and one of eight children, Mr. Navarro and his wife Kelly have four school-aged children and reside in Charleston.

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Thursday 5 November 2015

Jill Siegal Chalsty
Respect: It’s Up to All of Us

Educator Jill Siegal Chalsty believes that there is no excuse for failing to teach our children the obvious keys to success—how to study, behave, and dream. And she has targeted such failure for extinction. She is the founder of the Community for Education Foundation and its Overcoming Obstacles Life Skills Education program. Since the organization’s inception in 1992, it has helped close to four million students in 41 countries learn the skills they need to be successful in life.

A former film and television producer, Jill is the author of Overcoming Obstacles: Making the Most of Life's Challenges & Opportunities, which was released in 2004. She was a member of the faculty at the Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising at New York University and a recipient of a Founder's Medallion at National Philanthropy Day, a Conflict Resolution Award from the Superintendent of Brooklyn and Staten Island High Schools, and an Edison International Partner in Excellence Award for her service to the nation. She graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and received an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from the Medical University of South Carolina. She and her husband, John Chalsty, live in Charleston.

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Monday 9 November 2015

Reverend Joe Darby
A Chance for Change?

Is Charleston at a tipping point in its long and fraught history of race relations? Is this community ready to commit to serious and lasting change in the way it educates, houses, treats and empowers its people—regardless of color, income, or political persuasion? Few people are equipped to answer these questions with the same perspective, knowledge, and experience that Reverend Joe Darby possesses.

Dubbed the "other Joe" by Charleston Magazine, Reverend Darby is Charleston’s leading voice on issues of race, justice, and inequality. He has delivered his message as senior pastor of the 3,000-member Morris Brown AME Church, and now Presiding Elder of the Beaufort District of the AME Church; as First Vice-President of the Charleston Branch NAACP; as Board Chairman of the P.A.S.T.O.R.S. Community Development Corporation; as Co-Chairman of the Charleston Area Justice Ministry; as Board President of the South Carolina Civil Liberties Union; and as frequent contributor to the op-ed pages of many newspapers, most recently in the Post & Courier on the question of school choice. Reverend Darby lives in Charleston with his wife, Mary, a career educator. They are the proud parents of two adult sons, Jason Christopher and Jeremy Christian.

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Monday 16 November 2015

David Blight
Healing and Justice? Civil War Memory in the Wake of Charleston, June 2015

When cataclysmic events rock our present day—when it seems so clear that we are living history—it can feel impossible to know much beyond that visceral fact. That is, to know what history we are living, and where this moment will fit in the wider narrative of our times. Historian David Blight, one of the nation’s foremost scholars of the Civil War and Reconstruction, and particularly the role of memory in history, holds in his mind such a command of the last 300+ years of American and Southern life that he can endeavor, with confidence, to tell us what today means.

Professor Blight is Class of 1954 Professor of American History at Yale University, where he is also Director of the Gilder Lehman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition. He is the author of several seminal books on slavery and the Civil War, including Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (Harvard University Press, 2001), which received eight book awards, including the Bancroft Prize, the Abraham Lincoln Prize, and the Frederick Douglass Prize as well as four awards from the Organization of American Historians. He is currently writing a new, full biography of Frederick Douglass that will be published by Simon and Schuster in 2015. In addition to his academic work, Professor Blight works in many capacities in the world of public history, and is a member of a small team of advisors to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. For that institution he wrote the recently published essay, "Will It Rise: September 11 in American Memory." In 2012, Blight was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and delivered an induction address, "The Pleasure and Pain of History."

Charleston Library Society: The South's oldest cultural institution, founded 1748