Black History Month – Books That Inspired Me

February 29, 2024
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As we reach the end of this year’s Black History Month, I wanted to share a few books that have shaped me and inspired me.

Growing up, I found—and still find—peace in books. I got lost in the experience of others, how people were shaped, how they grew, and how they felt about all of that. I saw myself in characters—who I was, who I wanted to be. And it helped me believe all things are possible.

Books (more than people) influenced my values and philosophy and perhaps even how I ended up doing work where understanding others’ experiences is such a big part of what I do.

And I needed to read books by authors that looked like me, looked like my family, and whose stories would help me understand my story. Nothing does that like brilliant literature by Black women.

I had 100 copies of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I think I felt that if I had one stashed in every nook and cranny, then I might somehow absorb the strength, courage, and purpose of Maya Angelou. I’m no fan girl, but I cried when I stood in front of Maya as she read her own poetry. I stood in a room of mostly white faces when I gave the graduation speech for the psychology department and read Still I Rise just as Maya did.

The audacity of that poem caused a visceral response in that room, as if…how dare this young brown woman declare so boldly her worth through the words of this poem. When Maya died, I felt as if part of me left the world.

This Black History Month, I invite you to read.

Here are some of my favorite books, both recent and classic:

Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford

Finding Me: A Memoir by Viola Davis

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

The Darkest Child by Delores Phillips

All About Love by bell hooks

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Cristina Jimenez, Senior Partner and Head of Culture of Belonging at RHR International