How Race Broke My Family and the World—and How to Repair It All
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Drawing on her lifelong journey to know her family's history, leading Christian activist Lisa Sharon Harper recovers the beauty of her heritage, exposes the brokenness that race has wrought in America, and casts a vision for collective repair.
Harper has spent three decades researching ten generations of her family history through DNA research, oral histories, interviews, and genealogy. Fortune, the name of Harper's first nonindigenous ancestor born on American soil, bore the brunt of the nation's first race, gender, and citizenship laws. As Harper traces her family's story through succeeding generations, she shows how American ideas, customs, and laws robbed her ancestors--and the ancestors of so many others--of their humanity and flourishing.
Fortune helps readers understand how America was built upon systems and structures that blessed some and cursed others, allowing Americans of European descent to benefit from the colonization, genocide, enslavement, rape, and exploitation of people of color. As Harper lights a path through national and religious history, she clarifies exactly how and when the world broke and shows the way to redemption for us all. The book culminates with a powerful and compelling vision of truth telling, reparation, and forgiveness that leads to Beloved Community. It includes illustrations and a glossy eight-page black-and-white insert featuring photos of Harper's family.
Foreword by Otis Moss III
Acknowledgments of Country
Part One: The Roots
1. Fortune: How Race Became Law
2. The Lawrences: Fragmented Identity
3. Lea: Slavery and Oblivion
Part Two: Degradation and Resistance
4. Lizzie: Like Dust
5. Reinaldo y Anita: Bomba
6. Sharon: Rebellion
7. Lisa: Light
Part Three: Repair
8. Truth-Telling as Reckoning
9. Reparation as Repentance
10. Forgiveness and the Beloved Community
"With skill and love, Lisa Sharon Harper weaves together nothing less than an epic and true story of race, religion, history, and identity. A small number of books convey such soulfulness and richness with every word, and this is one of them. Fortune recovers the story not just of a single lineage but of whole eras, people groups, and nation-shaping events, and it reads like both memoir and exposé. It rewards the reader with insights and emotion on every page."
Jemar Tisby, New York Times bestselling author of The Color of Compromise and How to Fight Racism
"Lisa Sharon Harper is one of our nation's most critical voices on the issues of race, gender, faith, and justice. In an era when the world feels unmoored, Harper anchors us in the truth of what brought America to the brink. Through masterful storytelling and deep spiritual reflection, Harper weaves together ten generations of her family story with the story of America. Then she points the way forward to a world where all can flourish. Fortune is necessary reading for us all."
Kirsten Powers, New York Times bestselling author, CNN senior political analyst, and USA Today columnist
"'Whoever saves a life,' the rabbis teach, 'saves the whole world.' In this brilliant story of Fortune, which is also the story of America, Lisa Sharon Harper demonstrates how one who narrates a life also tells the story of the whole world. Take and read how one family and the whole world were broken by the lies of race, and how we might be part of repairing the breach."
Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president, Repairers of the Breach; author of We Are Called to Be a Movement
"The magic of Lisa is this: she tells the whole truth of our historical existence as a nation built upon racist structures, ideologies, and laws. In Fortune, Harper lays bare the guttural facts about where America sits in the expanse between the bright promise of 'I Have a Dream' and the rayless reality of 'Make America Great Again.' In the end, she makes clear the work we must accomplish to see that our hope for true equality and justice never fades."
Jen Hatmaker, New York Times bestselling author, speaker, and host of the For the Love podcast
"It is difficult to write a book on race, faith, family, reparations, and justice in ways that are compelling to people who are either tired of or resistant to thinking about these matters. Lisa Sharon Harper has written just such a book. Harper has the rare gift of speaking honestly in ways that remind you of Tom Skinner, and of speaking intimately in ways that remind you of Maya Angelou. There are few evangelical writers who match the power of her voice. I am very glad we all get to hear it in print."
Willie James Jennings, Yale Divinity School
"Lisa Sharon Harper is a masterful storyteller. In Fortune, Harper offers us a front-row seat to the intergenerational story of her family as they moved from being a community of enslaved Africans to free African Americans. With a sociohistorical scalpel and unflinching honesty, she unpacks the sound of her family's names, an African American family in White America where the bone of racism chokes the breath out of everyone and everything it touches, including democracy itself. Faced with the choice of becoming broken-winged birds from the weight of racism, the men and women in Fortune choose to both fly in it and above it. This is the magnificent breath of fresh air that we inhale from the genius of this African American family."
Ruby Sales, founder of the Spirithouse Project, long distance runner for justice, social critic, popular educator, and Black folk theologian
"'How do we repair what race broke in the world?' This is what Lisa Sharon Harper challenges us to consider in her new book. She takes us on a journey of discovery using her family history as the vessel, and calls us to contemplate not only the cost and pain of racism but the promise of an 'America yet to be'--should we dare to confront our past, repair the damage, and demand a future that belongs to us all. A fantastic read and an important work in America's search for her authentic self."
Mitch Landrieu, former mayor of New Orleans; founder of E Pluribus Unum
"In this powerful and necessary book, Lisa Sharon Harper does something truly unique. By telling the story of her own family, she tells the story of America through a deeply Christian lens. As truthful as it is hopeful, this beautifully written book about resistance, healing, memory, place, history, justice, and identity shows how we are all still shaped by the stories we tell. This is a story that will stay with you."
Sarah Bessey, editor of New York Times bestseller A Rhythm of Prayer; author of Miracles and Other Reasonable Things
"Fortune by Lisa Sharon Harper is an arresting, moving, and altogether remarkable book. The author--one of the most influential faith leaders in America and around the globe--deftly combines her own story with a broader narrative of race, theology, and our country's tragic history. This book is a triumph! It should be read in living rooms, classrooms, and anywhere else where people seek passion, purpose, and truth."
Joshua DuBois, White House faith-based advisor to President Barack Obama; bestselling author of The President's Devotional
"Lisa Sharon Harper gives us a glimpse of her family's survival, resistance, and resilience through her bold storytelling. In this epic narrative, she reminds us that our stories aren't entirely lost to racial injustice. We can reclaim the richness and brilliance of our stories, our people, and our faith. Fortune will have your attention on every page and provoke each of us to explore our family history and discover redemptive visions for ourselves and our family lineage."
Latasha Morrison, New York Times and ECPA bestselling author of Be the Bridge; president and founder of Be the Bridge
"Lisa Sharon Harper is one of the most influential leaders in the US and across the globe. This is her most important book yet. She unifies her own family history with her insightful theology. She names the sinful, demonic force of racism, but she also casts a vision for how we can heal our wounds from it. Pure fire from beginning to end."
Shane Claiborne, author, activist, and cofounder of Red Letter Christians
"A beautiful book of great spiritual and emotional depth. Through a mix of memoir and historical excavation, Lisa Sharon Harper conducts a unique, courageous exploration of America's original sin and its terrible toll on the physical, spiritual, and psychic existence of Black Americans through the struggles of her ancestors. This book will touch your soul."
Obery M. Hendricks Jr., visiting scholar, Columbia University; author of Christians Against Christianity: How Right-Wing Evangelicals Are Destroying Our Nation and Our Faith
"In Fortune, Lisa Sharon Harper helps us imagine how the sterile print of America's first race laws impacted living, breathing people. Particularly in chapter one, her analysis of the life of Fortune Game Magee and her descendants helps us consider how these laws and the constructs of race that they built shaped the course of our nation. You may not agree with everything, but you must consider this work."
Paul Heinegg, author of Free African Americans of Maryland and Delaware and Free African Americans of North Carolina, Virginia, and South Carolina
"Lisa Sharon Harper is one of our generation's most important wisdom teachers. Fortune is a compelling invitation to receive the story that has shaped a nation through the story of her family. It makes clear how the stakes in our public conversations about race and justice are both deeply personal and universal: they touch us in the most intimate spaces of our lives."
Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, author of Revolution of Values and Reconstructing the Gospel
"Lisa Sharon Harper is a gifted storyteller and one of the voices we need to listen to for America's future. In telling the story of her ancestors and her personal story, she shows us a deeper way of understanding our nation's difficult past and offers a way forward toward its diverse and equitable future."
Rev. Jim Wallis, Endowed Chair in Faith and Justice and founding director of the Georgetown University Center on Faith and Justice; founder and ambassador of Sojourners
"Lisa Sharon Harper's Fortune is a brave and brilliant meditation on the shameful legacy of racial injustice in America. This is a seamless narrative brimming with historical reflection, family lore, and spiritual healing. Highly recommended!"
Douglas Brinkley, Katherine Tsanoff Brown Chair in Humanities and professor of history, Rice University; author of Rosa Parks: A Life
"What is extraordinary about this publication is Lisa's ability to weave history, family narrative, theology, and creative nonfiction against our contemporary scene. . . . Read from these pages, Beloved, and let this story of family, race, and resistance create anger in your spirit and ultimately inspire your heart to join the work to heal our nation and eventually our world."
Otis Moss III (from the foreword)
A Word & Way 2022 Book of the Year
Sojourners' 2022 Book Roundup to Inspire Faith and Justice
"Beyond urging readers to look inward and speak up for marginalized groups, [this book lays] out actionable items and tangible goals for creating a more inclusive and just future."
"Fortune is remarkable in a number of ways. Through in-depth research of her own family history, Lisa uses her lineage to map our nation's long struggle with the sin of racism. . . . By narrating the story through her lineage, Lisa refuses to let the reader observe what unfolds at a distance. She makes it feel personal because, of course, it was. . . . Few of us would dare to write this book, taking the time to publicly unearth our familial past to chart the brokenness of a nation. That makes Lisa's offering both courageous and valuable. It's a story that needed to be told, which makes this memoir a gift to both Christ's Church and our country."
Word & Way
"With transfixing storytelling and careful research, Harper traces 10 generations of beauty and brokenness as her ancestors confronted racist laws and the system that enforced them. It's a deeply personal story yet Harper also challenges readers to wrestle with their own family histories."
"[An] extraordinary book. . . . The brokenness that race has wrought in America is part of this tender, personal story, and [Harper's] big vision of collective repair is urgent. She calls for us to tell the truth, a prophetic call needed now more than ever! I beg you to read it."
Hearts and Minds Booknotes
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