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August 03, 2017 | Charlotte Donlon
Many conversations I hear about social justice issues are taking place among people who aren’t necessarily suffering from oppression. There are a lot of well-meaning people who talk about the effects of racism. They advocate for changes to different laws and systems and hope to one day remove the discrepancies between how people of color and white people are treated. I appreciate the work advocates and community organizers do, and I appreciate hearing about their work. But I also want to hear from individuals who have first-hand experience. I want to know their stories. I want to know the roads they’ve walked and how they got from Point A to Point B.
Becoming Ms. Burton is one such story. This book is a memoir written by Susan Burton and Cari Lynn about Burton’s life and the years she spent in and out of prison, her struggle with drugs and addiction, her recovery, and the organization she founded to help women avoid the pitfalls she experienced throughout much of her life. Burton’s story is almost unbelievable to those of us who are unfamiliar with the intricacies of the prison system and who are oblivious to the reality of what people of color experience on a daily basis. It is hard to read this book and not walk away with a better understanding of the structures of white supremacy that undergird our country.
Burton shares her story of loss, suffering, healing, and success with honesty and vulnerability. She writes about her unique journey as well as some of the commonalities many experience in similar situations. Alarming statistics are included at the beginning of every chapter. These additional facts, coupled with Burton’s narrative of her life, provide plenty of content for readers to ponder. Now that I’m finished reading Becoming Ms. Burton, I must decide how to respond. Will I continue as I have before today? Or will I let Burton and her story inspire me to engage these issues in my community?
Charlotte lives in Homewood with her husband and their two children. She’s earning an MFA in creative writing from Seattle Pacific University, and she does freelance writing and copywriting. You can find her online at www.charlottedonlon.com and on Twitter at @charlottedonlon. You can sign up for her newsletter about what she’s reading and writing here.