Leigh Ann Fulford Discusses OIC's Big Read Book Club for Oakwood Register

The Oakwood Register recently featured the following interview with Leigh Ann Fulford, the OIC's Programs and Events Chair, on the Fall 2021 Big Read Book Discussion. A resident of Oakwood since 1987, Leigh Ann is widely known for her volunteer work in the community.

Why were you asked to serve on the OIC leadership team?

That’s a good question! It’s probably because the other team members know I can’t say no, especially to causes that benefit our community. I also think many have worked – or possibly been roped into working! – alongside me on projects that I have either started or been very involved in, so they felt comfortable asking me to coordinate events that will attract a bunch of folks to the OIC. After organizing the CARE Walk for 20 years and the Out of the Darkness Walk for eight years, I have learned how to assemble a team of volunteers, coordinate with various entities regarding everything from safety to garbage pick-up, and make connections in the community to make sure everyone is involved, serving, and being served at the levels they want to be. I am very honored to be part of the OIC team; it’s a great group of folks.

Why does the OIC have a Big Read book club?

I grew up surrounded by books of all sorts, and my life has been shaped by conversations and friendships that started with books. My dad, an accountant, read popular paperbacks; my mom, an English professor, read Shakespeare and 18th-century literature. In college, I majored in English and chemistry because I love both the sciences and the arts and couldn’t choose. I have also learned a lot from and about people by discussing books with them, whether in a book club or with the stranger sitting next to me on a plane. For me, books are great ice-breakers. My job as Programs and Events Chair is to come up with activities that appeal to all in the community and bring folks together. Based on my background, one of the first things that popped into my head was a book club of some sort. This idea was readily accepted by the Leadership Team since book discussions can be held in person or online and they align well with our mission to educate and inform. Especially since the pandemic has kept us from holding in-person events, the Big Read has been a perfect program to start with.

How do you choose the Big Read book?

I get suggestions from members of the Leadership Team and from those who have participated in our previous book discussions. I’ve learned that many team members are avid readers who “pleasure-read” as a way to become better informed. It’s no surprise that their book recommendations represent diverse perspectives – just as the Leadership Team itself does. Then I read reviews of each of the suggested books and seek advice from the librarians at Wright Library. Finally, I read the most likely candidate books with the OIC’s main objectives in mind and ask myself: “Does this book stimulate readers to think deeply and prompt participants to learn more about one another's perspectives?” I then recommend a book to the Committee who makes the final decision.

Why did you select The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt for the Big Read this fall?

The Righteous Mind was recommended by a participant in our first book discussion who suggested that we focus on an issue other than race for our next Big Read. I immediately checked it out from the library and read it within a few days – it is an engaging book that is easy to read and understand. I felt that this book would start a conversation that could connect people in the community. From our local librarians I learned that this 2012 New York Times bestseller has staying power: people are still talking about its relevance to current political issues. I was particularly compelled by the author’s finding that reason can sway morality - if and only if the reasoning is interactive. “It has to be other people’s reason that engages yours,” Haidt claims. “We’re lousy at challenging our own beliefs, but we’re good at challenging others’.” Book reviewers from a host of different backgrounds agree that this book can stimulate lively discussion about a difficult topic. We hope that our discussion of The Righteous Mind will challenge the Oakwood community to find new ways to contribute to a healthy society at the local level.