March 07, 2018IMLAY CITY —There's a story inside each one of us—for some, maybe more than one.
You can look at a person, but not necessarily be able to tell what that story might be. After all, the old saying goes 'you can't tell a book by its cover.'
Still, something within us turns the page. We turn to books to find out lots of things, or to be entertained and swept away in a fantasy for a while. Sometimes, we end up with more questions than answers—wishing there was a way to communicate with the author to find out more.
This Saturday, readers can do just that as the Human Library Project (HLP) visits the Ruth Hughes Library. From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., visitors can 'check out' a human book; actually sit down with the 'author' to ask questions and exchange dialogue.
The HLP is designed to foster understanding, challenge stereotypes and put community members in touch with each other's lives through respectful dialogue.
"The Human Library Project is a place where real people are on loan to readers," the HLP website says. "A place where difficult questions are expected, appreciated and answered."
It's also a longtime dream coming to fruition for Youth Services Coordinator Mandy Summers, who's coordinating the project at Ruth Hughes Library. Summers says she's wanted to bring HLP to Imlay City for years, so when library patron Deb Stallings broached the idea, Summers was eager to make it happen.
"It's an incredible, incredible thing to experience," Summers says. "I've always been very curious about people, their back stories and what makes them tick. I love the idea that we can provide opportunities for conversations between two people who may never meet in their everyday lives. It's so interesting and exciting to me."
Longtime Imlay City resident Ted Collom's 'book,' his life as a spy, will be available.
Some of the people—who are participating as human books—include a nun, a former member of the Amish community, a magician and corporate entertainer, a person who rescues pit bulls from fighting rings, an international spy, a transgender individual and an immigrant who grew up in segregated colonial times in Southern Africa.
Summers says she's thrilled by the assortment of 'books' available on Saturday, and hopes visitors will be intrigued and curious.
"We live in Imlay City so let's face it, we don't get a whole bunch of variety," Summers grins. "But the idea that we can have this kind of variety in a safe environment—no marching into unfamiliar territory to learn these things—is an amazing thing."
Offering a unique perspective on the lasting effects of forced segregation, participant Dr. Ortrude Moyo says she hopes visitors will come away with an understanding of migration stories, and empathy about the connections to these destabilizations to many in the global world.
"I believe that people have to understand the local-global connections for us all to further a world that is more embracing of difference," she says.
Moyo is Department Chair and Associate Professor in the University of Michigan-Flint Social Work program. She's published numerous articles on social development issues in southern Africa, racism in human services, every day violence and social change.
Imlay City's own Ted Collom is also participating as a human book. The mild-mannered former banker and veteran will answer questions about his days zig-zagging the borders of Russia at night in our country's most sophisticated spy aircraft of the time, translating and intercepting Russian radio transmissions during the Cold War.
Collom worked directly for the Army Security Agency, an arm of the National Security Administration while enlisted in the U.S. Army. He flew reconnaissance missions skirting the Soviet Union from 1959 to 1962. Posing as a plainclothes civilian, Ted was sent from country to country.
"I didn't think of the dangers, or of being shot down—I just did my job and didn't ask questions," Ted said in an earlier interview with the Tri-City Times.
All are welcome to stop in and check out one of the fascinating 'human books' available on Saturday. You do not have to be a member of the Ruth Hughes Library to participate.
Questions must be respectful, but don't have to be complicated. Sample questions include:
•What is a typical day like for you?
•What experience has impacted you the most?
•Why did you want to be a human book? What do you hope to accomplish?
•Do you wish you could go back in time to change a decision you made? Any regrets?
•What do you do to have fun?
The Human Library Project will take place from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. this Saturday, March 10 at the Ruth Hughes Library in Imlay City. The library is located at 211 N. Almont Avenue. Call 810-724-8043 or visit ruthhughes.org for more information.
Catherine Minolli is Managing Editor of the Tri-City Times. She began as a freelance writer with the Times in 1994. She enjoys the country life, including raising ducks and chickens.