Isabel Wilkerson, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, said she has traveled as far as Singapore, Alaska and the British Parliament to discuss her book about the migration of African Americans from the South. But she was especially excited to be talking to students at Cardozo Education Campus Monday morning, she said.
For Wilkerson, who grew up in Petworth and attended Roosevelt High School, coming to the school was like a return home.
“I can just see myself in each and every one of you,” she said.
She was there to talk about “The Warmth of Other Suns,” her 2010 narrative history that describes the paths that 6 million African Americans took north and West, through the stories of three people who lived it. Wilkerson interviewed more than 1,200 people during research that spanned 15 years.
“These were people who took pieces of themselves from home and remade themselves, so we could sit here and have access to things they never dreamed of,” she told the students.
The visit was organized by The Pen/Faulkner Foundation, which sponsors a Writers in Schools program that donates books of contemporary literature to the schools and arranges for the authors to visit. In all, 10 writers were scheduled to visit D.C. public schools Monday to talk about their books. Many of them are in town for the organization’s annual fundraiser Monday night.
Many of the students in the audience at the Cardozo media center had been reading her book in their classes.
They asked questions about how she did her research and how she selected the three people to focus on in the story.
One student, who immigrated from El Salvador when he was 13, asked, “How do you explain to a country that does not understand that migrating is not a sin but a necessity?”
She said migrants from all different places have a lot in common.
She talked about the resistance that African Americans met with when they left the south and settled in new cities and towns, through red-lining and discrimination.
“Why do people make the heartbreaking decision to leave everything they know?” She said. “They are coming for a reason, and they are not coming to fail.”