Office of Student Success, Equity and Innovation

Common Read

Photo of the Common Read book for 2023-24

2023-24 Common Read

The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together

by Heather McGhee

In The Sum of Us, Heather McGhee dives into her specialty, the American Economy, and the mystery of why it often fails the American public. From the financial crisis to rising student debt to collapsing public infrastructure, McGhee has found a common root problem: racism. McGhee explains that racism has costs for white people too and it is the common denominator of our most vexing public problems, the core dysfunction of our democracy and constitutive of the spiritual and moral crises that grip us all.  

McGhee embarks on a deeply personal journey across the country from Mississippi to California to Maine, tallying what we lose when we buy into the zero-sum paradigm--the idea the progress for some of us must come at the expense of others. Along the way, she meets white people who confide in her about losing their homes, their dreams, and their shot at better jobs to the toxic mix of American racism and greed. This is the story of how public goods in this country--from parks and pools to functioning schools--have become private luxuries; of how unions collapsed, wages stagnated, and inequality increased; and how this country, unique among the world's advanced economies, has thwarted universal healthcare.

But in unlikely places of worship and work, McGhee finds proof of what she calls the Solidarity Dividend: gains that come when people come together across race, to accomplish what we simply can't do on our own.

The Sum of Us is a brilliant analysis of how we arrived here: divided and self-destructing, materially rich but spiritually starved and vastly unequal. McGhee marshals economic and socialogical research to paint an irrefutable story of racism's costs, but at the heart of the book are the humble stories of people yearning to be part of a better America, including white supremacy's collateral victims: white people themselves. With startling empathy, this hearfelt message from a Black woman to a multiracial America leaves us with a new vision for a future in which we finally realize that life can be more than zero-sum. 

Common Read 2024: Author Heather McGhee Keynote Recording

Author of "The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together," Heather McGhee, visited Cal Poly Pomona on February 12 2024, for an enlightening conversation, a captivating keynote address, and an exclusive book signing. If you missed the event, visit the link below to access the event recording (viewers will need CPP credentials to access the video recording). 

Common Read Event Recording

Cal Poly Pomona's Annual Common Read Writing Contest

Congratulations to the 4 Writing Contest Winners!

• Lucy Alexandre - Chemistry Major

• Angela Becerril - Apparel Merchandising and Management Major

• Lindsey Lam - Communication Major

• Jucinda Lopez - Hospitality Management Major

In the News

'The Sum of Us' Selected as CPP Common Read for 2023-24

Cynthia Pickett, presidential associate for inclusion and chief diversity officer at Cal Poly Pomona, nominated Heather McGhee’s “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together.” Read more about the upcoming 2023-24 Common Read book. 

'The Sum of Us' Author to Speak at Cal Poly Pomona

Cal Poly Pomona’s First Year Experience Committee, with support from the Office of Inclusive Excellence and the University Library, will host the Common Read 2024 Keynote with Heather McGhee, author of the compelling book “The Sum of Us” on February 12, 2024. 

Podcast Series

A year after the publication of the book, McGhee hit the road again to find more reasons to be hopeful...more stories of cross-racial coalitions unlocking The Solidarity Dividend.

That journey is now a podcast, the Sum of Us. Produced by the Obamas' production company Higher Ground, and Futuro Studios. The show is available wherever you stream your podcasts. 

Introducing: the Sum of Us

2024-25 Common Read Book Nominations

The First-Year Experience Committee is accepting book nominations for the 2024-25 Common Read. In FYE courses, students read the Common Read selection and participate in discussions, activities and events tied to the book's themes.

The nomination form is open until April 8, 2024. The FYE Committee is open to fiction and non-fiction books with themes of diversity and inclusion.

Submit a Book Suggestion

Past Common Read Selections

2022-23: Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

2021-22: The War for Kindness by Jamil Zaki

2020-21: The Moth Presents: Occasional Magic

2019-20: Becoming by Michelle Obama

2018-19: So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

2017-18: The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande

2016-17: Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth




2015-16: Consent of the Networked by Rebecca MacKinnon

2014-15: Where Am I Wearing by Kelsey Timmerman

2013-14: The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard

2012-13: Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error by Kathryn Schulz

2011-12: Eaarth by Bill McKibben