Brittany Packnett

Brittany Packnett

Brittany Packnett

Joining a long list of thought-provoking books presented to first year students at Washington University is this year’s selection, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me.”

As part of the year-long plan designed to enhance the reading experience, social justice champion Brittany Packnett addressed the issues raised in the book for the Assembly Series. Her talk, “Between the World and You: Our Duty to Fight for Freedom,” was at 7 p.m. Monday, September 26 in College Hall, located on the residential side of the Danforth Campus.

Written as an extended letter to his son, Coates tries to make sense of the unique set of cultural conditions  — the often agonizing situations — facing African-Americans, especially young men. The book, which was Inspired by James Baldwin’s 1963 classic, “The Fire Next Time” and fueled by recent controversies surrounding police bias and violence towards black males, won the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2015 and was short-listed for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize.

Originally hailing from Ferguson, Mo, Packnett received her undergraduate degree from Washington University and her graduate degree from American University before beginning her career at Teach For America (TFA) as executive director for St. Louis. She is now the organization’s newly appointed vice president of National Community Alliances, a position seemingly made for her, as Packnett learned about the importance of alliances at ground zero in Ferguson two years ago when Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer. This was also ground zero for the Black Lives Matter movement, where she honed her leadership skills in community service. This work led to membership on the Ferguson Commission, in turn bringing her to the attention of President Barack Obama, who appointed Packnett to his 21st Century Policing Task Force.

As someone with a deep understanding of the underlying and complex set of forces driving the current state of unrest, and as an African American woman raised in St. Louis, Packnett introduced critical insights into the collective discussion of Coates’ poignant personal struggle brought to life in “Between the World and Me.” She will then be joined on stage by members of the WashU community to generate a dialogue surrounding the book’s themes.

In 2015 Packnett was recognized as one of TIME Magazine’s “12 New Faces of Black Leadership,” an honor that helped introduce her to the national news media. That same year, Packnett helped launch two social justice organizations: We the Protesters, and Campaign Zero.

Read Packnett’s inspirational essay on Michael Brown and follow her on Twitter

Find more information regarding the First Year reading selection

“Between the World and Me” is available at the Campus store