As Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe read aloud to a room of about 80 people Monday night, the audience laughed, applauded and listened.
The event was the first in a series of book club meetings to be held by the mayor at the Headquarters Branch of the Alachua County Library District in downtown Gainesville.
Monday’s meeting discussed racial themes from the book “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
The book, which won the 2015 National Book Award for Nonfiction, was written by Coates for his teenage son about the past, present and future of being African-American in the U.S.
“When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression,” Poe said of one passage from the book.
The majority of the audience made sounds of agreement and nodded.
Poe divided the hourlong meeting into two parts. First, three panelists and friends of Poe responded to various excerpts of text read aloud by the mayor. The audience was then given the opportunity to respond to one question: “What did you learn from this book?”
The event began promptly at 6 p.m., but people trickled in and pulled up chairs in the packed room until about 6:20 p.m. Many read along and highlighted key phrases or scribbled notes on notepads.
Throughout the discussion, Brandon Telg, 27, sat on the left side of the room typing notes on his phone. When the audience was dismissed, he remained in his seat, thinking.
“The thing is, we need to listen to each other,” Telg said. “We need to care about other people’s stories. When we do that, we can wipe away all this fear that we have.”
Pablo Garces said his humanities class at Santa Fe College was Gaassigned to read the book and attend the meeting. The electrical engineering freshman said it was more than just an assignment to him.
“It talked about such a relevant problem,” Garces, 18, said. “My mind immediately jumped to the police shootings that have been happening. I just came to see what solutions people had for this problem.”