Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Message of Hope and of Unity

Before St. John showed up, readers read.
St. John drew a nearly full house at Hollins' auditorium.
St. John regales his audience.
Warren St. John, the young New York Times journalist who wrote Outcasts United, talked to a full house at Hollins last night, giving some insight into his popular book.

The book takes a close look at a small Atlanta suburb, which has become a virtual dumping ground for refugees. Much of what it finds is less than flattering not only to the town, but to all of us. St. Clair concluded that his findings could easily be read as a projection 40 years into our future and it does not bode well for us.

He says he discovered in the course of researching the book that the more diverse a community is, the less its people interact with each other. Part of that is fear and ignorance and fretting that new Americans will not be what old Americans are accustomed to.

I live in an extremely diverse section of Roanoke and the attitudes I see, especially among old people (and, yep, I'm old) is one of fear and intolerance. When I first landed here, a couple of guys my age stopped me on a walk one morning and warned me of "them damn South Americans." The old boys said there were roving bands of teenaged n'er-do-wells I'd have to avoid. I have never found the immigrants in this section to be anything but a little shy. If I make an effort, they return it with a smile. A simple "hola" greeting is enough.

Last year, the large number of foreign-born kids who knocked on my door at Halloween was refreshing. They were hesitant and their parents stood in the shadows, but I hope they felt welcome and that they will be back this year.

St. Clair's book is the selection this year for Roanoke's The Big Read and I think it's a good one. One goal of the Read is to bring the community together. Outcasts United has that as a central theme.

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