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Baltimore leaders hope to bring city together by encouraging everyone to read the same book

In the city that reads, thousands of students will pore over the same story as part of a new initiative to promote literacy.

One Book Baltimore aims to connect children, their families and their surrounding communities by encouraging them all to read the same book.

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This year’s selection is “Dear Martin,” a novel by Nic Stone that follows a young black teenager through his senior year of high school. In a series of journal entries addressed to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., young Justyce McAllister grapples with questions about race and identity.

The organizations behind One Book Baltimore hope that “by choosing a gritty narrative that explicitly deals with peace, anti-violence, and racial equity … individuals may engage in meaningful open dialogue about their experiences and the challenges facing our communities, and that they may ultimately see a new path for themselves,” according to a news release announcing the city-wide initiative.

All Baltimore public school seventh- and eighth-graders will get free copies of the book, but people of any age are encouraged to read it.

“City schools determined that the themes of peace and anti-violence would resonate with middle school students and the project would have a positive impact,” according to the initiative’s website. “The text is age-appropriate for seventh- and eighth-grade students. One Book Baltimore is a new initiative and our hope is to potentially expand to other grade levels in the coming years.”

Extra copies ofDear Martin” will be available to check out at all 22 Enoch Pratt Free Library locations, and all Little Free Library sites in the city.

The program is a collaboration among the library system, the city school district, Baltimore Ceasefire 365, T. Rowe Price Foundation and a number of other groups.

The idea emerged from conversations among community leaders after the 2015 unrest in the city, touched off by the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who suffered fatal injuries while in police custody.

“We saw that other cities had used family literacy efforts to bring communities together and foster meaningful conversation,” John Brothers, president of the T. Rowe Price Foundation, said in a statement.

One Book Baltimore will launch at the Baltimore Book Festival on Sunday in the Inner Harbor. Stone will attend the event scheduled for 2 p.m. at the Enoch Pratt Free Library Children’s Tent.

“To know that children — and adults — across the city of Baltimore will be reading and engaging with ‘Dear Martin’ is an honor beyond measure,” she said in a statement. “It is my deepest hope that slipping into Justyce’s shoes will open eyes and minds in a way that will move the world we inhabit a bit closer to that of Dr. King’s Dream.”

Discussions and programming related to the book’s themes will be held at Pratt Library locations across the city this fall.

Stone is schedule to return to Baltimore to talk with students about the book Dec. 12. More details on One Book Baltimore programming are posted at prattlibrary.org/onebook.

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