Empowering Black Families: A Reading List

By NYPL Staff
February 1, 2021

This blog post is part of the Woodson Project—a series of events, posts, and book lists on subjects including empowering Black families, amplifying Black voices, exploring Black identity and intersectionality, and discovering Black influencers in STEAM. The project was created by branch staff from across NYPL to honor Dr. Carter G. Woodson, who in 1926 created Negro History Week—the precursor to Black History Month.

This booklist recognizes the experience and perspectives of Black community members who seek materials related to mental health, self-improvement, and financial literacy. The books on this list—for children, young adults and adults—explore themes of identity, leadership, self-confidence and much more.

Books for Children

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All Because You Matter by Tami Charles, illustrated by Bryan Collier

A lyrical, heart-lifting love letter to Black and Brown children everywhere reminds them how much they matter, that they have always mattered and they always will.

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I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James

Proud of everything that makes him who he is, a young Black narrator celebrates the creativity, adventurous spirit, humor and loyalty that shape his undeterred spirit and confident goals, even when people who do not understand try to limit his potential.

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Baby Young, Gifted, And Black: With A Mirror! by Jamia Wilson and Andrea Pippins

A board book edition of the top-reviewed celebration of the achievements of 20 icons of color from the past and present includes entries for such civil rights trailblazers as Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Zadie Smith.

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Hands Up! by Breanna J. McDaniel, illustrated by Shane W. Evans

A young girl lifts her hands up during everyday moments—including greeting the sun, getting dressed and playing basketball—before finally raising her hands in resistance at a protest march.


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Tristan Strong Destroys The World: Tristan Strong Series, Book 2 by Kwame Mbalia

 Tristan Strong, just back from a victorious but exhausting adventure in Alke, the land of African American folk heroes and African gods, is suffering from PTSD. But there's no rest for the weary when his grandmother is abducted by a mysterious villain out for revenge.

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Family Traditions

Bedtime Bonnet by Nancy Amanda Redd, illustrated by Nneka Myers

As family members braid, brush, twirl, roll, and tighten their hair before bedtime, putting on kerchiefs, wave caps, and other protective items, the little sister cannot find her bonnet.

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Thirteen Ways Of Looking At A Black Boy by Tony Medina & 13 artists

These short, vibrant tanka poems about Black boys and young men depict thirteen views of everyday life: dressed in Sunday's best, running to catch a bus, growing up to be teachers, and much more. Each of Tony Medina's tanka is matched with a different artist including recent Caldecott and Coretta Scott King Award recipients.

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Ways to Make Sunshine by Renee Watson, illustrated by Nina Mata

The Hart family of Portland, Oregon, faces many setbacks after Ryan's father loses his job, but no matter what, Ryan tries to bring sunshine to her loved ones.

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Reach For The Skai: How To Inspire, Empower, And Clapbackby Skai Jackson

The young activist star of Disney Channel’s Bunk’d and Jessie reveals how her successful career was also impacted by bullying and insecurity, sharing advice for today’s tweens and teens on how to inspire change and embrace differences. 



Books for Young Adults

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Social  Activism

When They Call You A Terrorist: A Story Of Black Llves Matter And The Power To Change The World by Patrisse Khan-Cullors

From one of the co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement comes a poetic memoir and reflection on humanity. Necessary and timely, Patrisse Khan-Cullors’ story asks us to remember that protest in the interest of the most vulnerable comes from love. Leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement have been called terrorists, a threat to America. But in truth, they are loving women whose life experiences have led them to seek justice for those victimized by the powerful.

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Civic Duty

The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert

The first year they are eligible to vote, Marva and Duke meet at their polling place and, over the course of one crazy day, fall in love.

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The Book Of Awesome Black American: Scientific Pioneers, Trailblazing Entrepreneurs, Barrier-Breaking Activist And Afro-Futurist by Monique L. Jones

We are familiar with a handful of African Americans who are mentioned in American history books, but there are also countless others who do not get recognized in mainstream media. Their actions may not have appeared to shake the world, but their contributions to shifting American culture were just as groundbreaking. African Americans have made history by challenging and changing the American landscape.


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Political Action

Lifing As We Climb: Black Women's Battle For The Ballot Boxby Evette Dionne

Explores the lesser-known efforts of such black suffrage activists as NAACP founder Mary Church Terrell, education advocate Anna Julia Cooper and journalist Ida B. Wells in helping African American women obtain the same rights as their white feminist counterparts.

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Black Magic: What Black Leaders Learned From Trauma And Triumph by Chad Sanders

An evocative tribute to Black achievement in a discriminating world draws on interviews with Black leaders, scientists, artists, activists and champions while exploring the author’s own experiences of being forced to emulate white culture.


Environmental  Leadership

Engage, Connect Protect: Empowering Diverse Youth As Environmental Leaders by Angelou Ezeilo

Engage, Connect, Protect highlights the need to recognize the work of environmental champions in communities of color, and create opportunities for business, educators, and policymakers to engage with diverse youth as the next generation of environmental stewards through culturally relevant learning and career opportunities.

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A Phoenix First Must Burn: Sixteen Stories Of Black Girl Magic, Resistance, And Hope edited by Patrice Caldwell

Featuring contributions by best-selling and award-winning authors, an anthology of 16 science-fiction and fantasy stories explores the Black and gender nonconforming experiences in worlds ranging from folktale environments to futuristic societies.

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Protest Art

This Is What I Know About Artby Kimberly Drew

In this account, Kimberly Drew shows us that art and protest are inextricably linked. Drawing on her personal experience through art toward activism, Drew challenges us to create space for the change that we want to see in the world. Because there really is so much more space than we think.

Books for Adults

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Black PainL It Just Looks Like We're Not Hurting: Real talk For When There's Nowhere To Go But Up by Terrie Williams

A successful woman entrepreneur addresses the taboo of depression that pervades African-American culture, drawing on her own experiences of suffering and recovery while counseling readers from all walks of life on how to overcome cycles of denial and psychological pain.


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Conversations In Black: On Power, Politics, And Leadership by Ed Gordon

A collection of conversations with such notables as Stacey Abrams, Harry Belafonte, Charlamagne tha God, Michael Eric Dyson, Jemele Hill, Eric Holder, Maxine Waters and others offers sage wisdom for navigating race in a radically divisive America.

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Youth Education

The Power In The Room: Radical Education Through Youth Organizing And Employment by Jay Gillen

Following in the rich traditions in African American cooperative economic and educational thought, teacher-organizer Jay Gillen describes the Baltimore Algebra Project (BAP) as a youth-run cooperative enterprise in which young people direct their peers’ and their own learning for a wage. BAP and similar enterprises are creating an educational network of empowered, employed students.

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Franchise: The Golden Arches In Black America by Marcia Chatelain

Traces the lesser-known history of how fast food became one of the greatest generators of black wealth in America, revealing how unexpected collaborations among franchises, black capitalists and civil rights leaders provided effective economic responses to racial inequality.

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Healthy Eating

Healthy At Last: A Plant-Based Approach To Preventing And Reversing Diabetes And Other Chronic Illnesses by Eric Adams

A Brooklyn Borough President and mayoral hopeful describes how he reversed type-2 diabetes by adopting a plant-based diet and offers science, real-life experiences and recipes from celebrity chefs to encourage fellow African-Americans to use to maintain healthy and active lives.


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Black Firsts: 500 Years Of Trailblazing Achievements And Ground-Breaking Events by Jessie Carney Smith

An expanded and updated edition collects more than 500 all-new entries celebrating Black American first achievers, from first Black U.S. Senator Hiram Rhoads to first Black U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. 

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Stay Woke: A Meditation Guide For The Rest Of Us by Justin Michael Williams

Perfect for all people of all backgrounds, this simple, no-nonsense 10-step guide introduces Freedom Meditation, which addresses a vast array of issues, cuts through self-sabotaging programming, and empowers you to make better decisions.

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Self Love

Fat Girls In Black Bodies: Creating Communities Of Our Own by Joy Cox

Combatting fatphobia and racism to reclaim a space of belonging at the intersection of fat, Black, and female. into three sections—"belonging," "resistance," and "acceptance"—and informed by personal history, community stories, and deep research, Fat Girls in Black Bodies breaks down the myths, stereotypes, tropes, and outright lies we've been sold about race, body size, belonging, and health.

Contributors: Ramon Carela, Asuncion Cora, Whitney Davidson-Rhodes, Esther Jackson, Carolyn Lawerence, Dhariyah Luqman, Allison Nellis, Micheal Okoli, Rachel Roseberry, Wayne Walters


Have trouble reading standard print? Many of these titles are available in formats for patrons with print disabilities.
Summaries provided via NYPL’s catalog, which draws from multiple sources. Click through to each book’s title for more.