“This has been the most satisfying and important project I’ve ever worked on,” says Evanston author and writing coach Steve Fiffer – which says a lot, since The Moment is Fiffer’s 20th book of nonfiction.
The Moment: Changemakers on Why and How they Joined the Fight for Social Justice is scheduled for publication Nov. 15 by NewSouth Books/University of Georgia Press. It includes short, in-their-own words stories from 38 influential “changemakers” who explain what impelled them to press ahead with important social justice work. The book includes well-known activists such as Bryan Stevenson and authors such as Edwidge Danticat as well as a variety of lesser-known but no less influential crusaders.
Here are three such moments from the book:
Phoenix-based immigration right activist Erika Andiola: “My mother had never done anything wrong. They grabbed her and they handcuffed her and they took her and one of my brothers, too. And I thought: Maybe this is my fault because I came out on television and said I was undocumented. I felt so guilty. I was sitting there with my little brother crying, thinking, What the heck’s gonna happen with my mom when she gets deported? Who’s gonna help her at the border? What’s gonna happen to my brother? Is he gonna be there for a long time? I didn’t know what to do. One of my friends came over, and he said, “Erika, you need to stop crying right now. At this moment you are not Erika, the daughter. You’re not Erika, the sister. Your mom doesn’t need those. You need to be Erika, the activist. You need to get up, and you need to do something about it.”
Amirah Ahmed, an 18-year old Muslim American activist in Virginia: “I remember staying up the night of the 2016 presidential election. It was a pivotal moment. I was twelve, in eighth grade. I didn’t understand everything that was going on, but I did know the result held so much emotion and consequence, particularly for Muslin Americans like our family. I remember the results coming in and sitting in the bathroom, sobbing.”
Native American City of Chicago Neighborhood Services Coordinator Anthony Tamez-Pochel: “At the protest Native youth were able to speak. It was my first time speaking in front of a huge crowd. I recall thinking, ‘Holy crap! This place is packed!’ I was worried beforehand, but remember once up there that simply feeling so passionate about what I was saying and hearing people applaud. Wow. They were interested in hearing what a small brown boy had to say. It gave me the sense that what I say matters.”
Of the 38 changemakers, Fiffer writes on the book’s website, “They are as diverse as America. Young and old. Of color and white. Urban and rural. Immigrants and native born. They are students and teachers. Athletes and artists. Lawyers, doctors, politicians, community organizers, architects, novelists, and more. They are institutionalists and agitators. But as diverse a lot as they may be, these changemakers share one thing in common. Each is committed to fighting inequality and injustice. Each, too, can pinpoint a moment when they were moved to action, when it became impossible to sit on the sidelines and just watch.”
Fiffer said it was always his intention to include “a wide mix of age, race, ethnicity and geography” for the book, as well as to provide a guide to inspire young people to make a difference.
Advanced reviews suggest he has hit his target.
“There comes a time in everybody’s life when they have to decide whether to stand up for what they believe in or remain on the sidelines,” wrote Andrew Young, former mayor of Atlanta and U.S. ambassador to the U.N.: “Here Steve Fiffer introduces us to a wide variety of folks who answered the call to action and sought to bend the arc of justice. Their stories are poignant, inspiring, informative and eye-opening.”
And from award-winning Chicagoan Alex Kotlowitz, author of There Are No Children Here: “The Moment is a book so needed in these times. In these pages Steve Fiffer has collected the stories of individuals who so deeply believe in the aspirations of our country, and who have made it their life mission to make sure we live up to those ideals. Their words and their journeys are inspiring, and light the way for the rest of us.”
Fiffer, 72, says he plans to devote the “foreseeable future” to “getting the book into the hands of young people, where it can have the most impact and make a real difference.”
To that end, Fiffer has begun connecting with local schools and not-for-profits to provide the book to students and teachers at reduced cost. Then he plans to invite one of the several changemakers from the Chicago area to join him meeting with students via assemblies or Zoom sessions to interest them in citizen engagement, activism and social justice. He has also begun talking with organizations like Teach for America and the California-based BOSS to expand the outreach from coast to coast.
The response, he says, “has been very positive,” much like the response to his two recent civil-rights related books, Jimmie Lee and James: Two Lives, Two Deaths, and the Movement that Changed America and It’s in the Action: Memories of a Non-Violent Warrior, a collaboration with the late civil-right rights icon C.T. Vivian.
Fiffer and friends donated more than a thousand copies of these books to high school students in Selma, Chicago and other cities. “Chapters are brief, and students can dip in and out. These stories lend themselves to book reports and research studies.”
Fiffer’s books also include A Lawyer’s Journey with civil rights attorney Morris Dees and the New York Times bestseller Work Hard, Study, and Keep Out of Politics with former Secretary of State James Baker.
With his wife, fiction writer Sharon Fiffer, he’s co-led the Wesley Writers Workshop in their Evanston home since 2009. (Full disclosure: This writer “workshopped” his novel over the course of several years with the Fiffers.)
Each profiled author has important lessons to convey, he says. “My own contribution is in the areas of interviewing, writing and publishing,” he says. “That’s my skill.”
That and writing pivotal books that can change America.