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'Sum of Us' Author Calls for Campus Community to Hammer at Injustice

Heather McGhee

Author Heather McGhee enjoyed working as a public policy wonk, looking through data spreadsheets and trying to come up solutions to economic problems.

She often appeared on television news shows and before Congress to advocate for those solutions. However, in 2017, she came to a realization. The way she was trying to solve the crisis of economic inequality wasn’t bearing fruit.

“The inertia of inequality was getting worse,” McGhee said. “I made a decision to hit the road and pursue a journey that would take me across the country.”

Out of that journey came McGhee’s New York Times bestselling book, “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together.” It explores how racism negatively effects the American economy and what can be done to bridge the inequality gap.

Heather McGhee talking with another person

McGhee’s book was the selection for the First Year Experience’s Common Read 2024. The policy advocate gave a keynote address and signed books on campus at a Feb. 12 event. The university’s Common Read is an initiative spearheaded by the Office of Student Success and the First Year Experience (FYE) Committee.

During her speech, McGhee talked about the lie Americans have been told about the zero-sum game — the idea that if one group gains economic ground than another group loses it.

After the Great Depression, the government created social programs that created a pathway for people to achieve the American dream. A college education was virtually free at one point. However, discriminatory practices such as redlining made it harder for Black Americans to afford own a home and create generational wealth, setting the country back, McGhee said.

To get back on track, the answer is the solidarity dividend — the idea that there are quantifiable gains we can unlock through solidarity, she said. The key is to remain hopeful, she added.

“Your job is to pick up the hammer and hammer at the wall of injustice,” McGhee said. “Your final blow may not be the one that makes the wall come down, but you know the wall is weaker because of what you have done…Work to not only better your own life, but to change policy.”

Watch a video of McGhee’s keynote address. CPP authentication required.

The event also included the announcement of the winners of the annual Common Read essay contest. The winners are: