The Kids Are All Right. The Adults Are F***ing Up!

Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Brittany: Hey y’all, it’s Brittany. So there was one particular episode of this podcast that I could not stop thinking about all week. Back in March, we spoke with Senator Elizabeth Warren about student loans, remember? 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren: Here’s the deal, about two out of every three Americans, and that includes Democrats and Republicans, say we gotta cancel student loan debt. We just gotta do this. 

Brittany: Well, I know there’s been a whole lot of cheering going on this week because after years of people like her and other legislators and hundreds, hundreds of organizers, we finally got some traction as President Biden has agreed to cancel some student loan debt. Okay. Pause for applause.

But you know, while plenty of us, even those without student loan debt like myself, see this as an amazing moment of relief for millions while we continue to push for more, other folks are pissed about it. They’re saying, you know, I paid my own way. Why should anyone else get a free ride? Hey, I’m Joe taxpayer, I don’t wanna foot the bill for your education. 

And I just cannot get over how selfish all of that sounds. I mean, I am descended from people who spent their tax dollars on pools they couldn’t swim in, so you can really miss me with that self-righteousness and the memes have been cracking me up. Like if Jesus fed 5,000 hungry people with just some loaves and fishes, are you really gonna be upset that you packed your own lunch?

Because that’s how you sound. Young folks are up to their eyeballs in debt, just because they got the educations we told them to get. Entire college counseling departments told us that this was good debt. Come to find out Credit Karma does not care. It is all debt to her. And more than ever this debate has highlighted stark generational divides, not just in what people believe in their ideologies, but in the circumstances they’ve been living in look. Gen Zers saw their parents’ homes get foreclosed on during the housing crisis while billionaire bankers who gave the subprime loans in the first place got bailed out.

If you’re 25 years old today, you and your older siblings have already endured multiple recessions and you probably can’t find a job or an affordable place to live, even with that expensive ass degree. And that’s just the economy. Policies of yesteryear have saddled millennials and Gen Zers with growing inequality, continuously racist institutions, and a climate crisis that just put one third of Pakistan underwater last week alone.

So if desperate times call for desperate measures, Gen Z and a lot of us millennials who feel the same burn are not waiting on your increments and even ideas of a few years ago, feel out of step and out of touch. So today’s show, the entirety of it, is dedicated to young people, what they’re dealing with and how they are changing the world and do not call them up-and-comers, they are here, and hell plenty of them are saving the rest of us right now.


On the show today, George Johnson, the author of one of the most frequently banned books in America, the stunning memoir All Boys Aren’t Blue. And Jennisen Lucas, a school librarian who’s leading the resistance against book banning from the inside. 

Jennisen Lucas: To me, this is an absolute attack on our first amendment and our right to read, our right to gain information, our right to share our own stories.

Brittany: That’s coming up. But first it’s the news.

A lot of high school juniors spend a year prepping for college entry exams and visiting schools and trying to figure out just how to make the money work. Lord knows that’s what I was doing, but one rising junior Talia Kantor Lieber had something else on her mind. 

When the Supreme Court overturned Roe, Talia told her dad she refused to go to college in a state where she couldn’t legally have an abortion. She’s not alone in this sentiment. Over a third of students say that the Supreme Court’s decision has factored into their college or university selection. So Talia took it a step further and turned it into a reporting project for us over here at the meteor, she called up 61 colleges and universities in states where abortion is banned or likely to be banned and asked if they would pay for students abortion travel. The result, five maybes, three Ohio schools, the College of Wooster, Kenyon College and Oberlin College all said students could access emergency funds, which they could potentially use for abortion care.

The University of Idaho and Vanderbilt University said the same. But nine other schools gave flat out no’s, 21 schools gave ambiguous answers, and 26 schools didn’t even respond. Here’s Talia talking about her reporting. 

Talia Kantor Lieber: Our schools are supposed to help us protect our education and asking them questions about whether and how they will do that is for everyone’s own good.

Brittany: It is for everyone’s own good and we’re grateful for you Talia for making sure we got some damn answers. Plenty of college students have needed and will need abortions; and accessing them should be simple, cost effective, and always safe. And just a reminder, if you are not already subscribed to the Meteor’s newsletter, you’re missing extraordinary work by extraordinary journalists who are fighting for a more just world. You can sign up at

And while we’re talking about young people taking matters into their own hands, let me set the stage for you. It’s the Coalition for Life’s annual benefit dinner in St. Louis. Y’all know, I love me some St. Louis. The Coalition for Life is, you guessed it, an anti-abortion group that funds and organizes those people who hang around clinics and they harass people getting care there. 

The benefit is being held in terminal one of the airport. Volunteers are escorting attendees, some of whom have paid up to $10,000 to be there. They’re escorting them to their seats and then unbeknownst to the staff of Coalition for Life, some of these volunteers are ducking into the bathroom to change out of the event’s church, formal dress code into booty shorts and crop tops. Hello. 

Then waves of disruption begin. First, a pair of volunteers starts passing out lube and condoms, safe sex is the best sex, but security kicks them out. Now by now, the staff of Coalition for Life is starting to realize they’d been infiltrated and they start sending volunteers home, just all willy nilly, cuz they have no idea who is who. 

But before they can get their bearings, another group of protestors is charging the stage during an anti-abortion doctor’s speech. This group of protestors has a banner that says Abortion is Holy and they chant and dance and shout. And they have plenty of time to do all of this because security has been distracted by the earlier incident.

Now police eventually show up to shut the whole thing down, but there were no arrests made because according to the Riverfront Times, a middle-aged woman goes up to a cop and tells them that the Coalition for Life doesn’t want to press charges. And it turns out she’s one of the infiltrators, too. One of the activists, Keith Rose, told Riverfront Times: We cannot fight them in the courts anymore. They’ve made that impossible. We can’t really fight them in the legislature, at least here in Missouri anymore. They’ve made that impossible, even though we are a majority of the national population. So we’re going to be fighting them in a more gorilla style. 

You gotta hand it to Gen Z, conservatives fucked around, and now they’re finding out. I’m hoping to see more actions, especially those that disrupt these groups’ ability to raise money and cause even more harm than they already have. In the meantime, donate to your local abortion funds.

It’s how we take our power back, through some good old mutual aid and love and support for one another.

And finally, as I mentioned at the top of the show, President Biden finally stepped up to cancel some student debt. Most folks will get $10,000 canceled. Pell Grant recipients will get $20,000 and everyone has to make less than $125,000 a year. Now, of course, there is much more to do, but this did not happen in a vacuum.

It took enormous external pressure. A lot of it driven by younger organizers, there’s Maxwell Frost, a young Black activist in Florida who made student debt along with gun reform and universal healthcare, a centerpiece of his primary. He won. And as a result, he’s one of the first Gen Z congressional candidates ever. 

A group called NextGen America sent over 17,000 letters to the White House asking President Biden to cancel student debt. And a popular TikTok account, The Pocket Report, asked viewers to send President Biden pens.

The Pocket Report: So given the timely nature of this crucially important issue, the only reason we can fathom that Biden hasn’t signed a bill is because he must not have a pen.

Brittany: Listen, they say on Twitter, the bullying works. I’m just gonna say collective action works and Gen Z knows that better than anybody.

Coming up, a conversation with George Johnson and Jennisen Lucas about why banning books actually provides parents with less choice, right after this short break.

And we are back. So one of my 50 11 jobs is a writer, y’all know, and in the past I was also a teacher. So when I see the pressure that authors in school librarians and educators are facing over what books kids can have access to, I get pissed off for them. My guests today are a writer and an educator.

Their work is to help people like the young folks you just heard about in the news, hone their critical thinking skills and become builders. George M. Johnson calls their book All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto, their essays track what it was like growing up queer and Black, including experiences of sex and sexual assault.

The book was published in 2020 to critical acclaim. It topped the bestseller list, but then conservatives coordinated to try to get the book banned. That allowed George to join the ranks of the most banned authors in America and gave their book an extra boost of exposure while giving them an extra dose of trouble.

Jennisen Lucas is a school librarian in Cody, Wyoming, and has served as the president of the American Association of School Librarians. She’s an outspoken advocate for kids having access to books that show them the world as it is, a world that they might not currently see reflected in their own insular communities.

So Jennisen, I really wanna start with your personal experience of people trying to forbid school libraries from stocking certain books. So earlier this year, a group of adults in Wyoming who don’t even have children in the school system, let’s be clear, sent an email to your district in Cody with a list of books that they were concerned about. Tell us what happened from there. 

Jennisen: Well, when we got that list, it was shared to our superintendent and then they shared it with me. So I looked over it to see what we actually did have in our library. Some of the information was actually really good and helpful to me because it was pointing out that we didn’t have as balanced a collection as I wish that we would.

So we had liberal authors, but not conservative ones. And we want to be able to provide all of the viewpoints that we can, so that was helpful. The other ones that were just a list of these are books that we don’t think are appropriate for children was a little bit less helpful, to say the least.

And so far they have not come after all of our LGBTQ books. Although they have mentioned that we have a hundred of them in our school library that they don’t want to have be there. I’m like, oh, great,  let me read them.

Brittany: Yeah, right? You’re like, thank you so much for this list of recommendations. I wanna put in context though, what you’ve been experiencing. How is this moment feeling different from your past years as a librarian?

Jennisen: Well, this is my 20th year as a school librarian. So, the last year has been very different in that it seems very organized and very national. In the past, it usually concerned parents that are worried for their children who come in to talk to us in the library. And that’s exactly what we want parents to do.

We want parents to be paying attention to their children and coming to talk to us when they have concerns.

Brittany: You’re saying concerns about what’s going on with their own child.

Jennisen: With their own child, yes. And so I’ve had parents who’ve come in and complained about books, about zombies, for instance, because it was causing their child to have nightmares.

This is a whole different situation. When these lists are being put together by very powerful groups that are sending them around the country, and then start talking about how our teachers and our librarians are providing these books and teaching our children these things that we don’t want them to know.

And that’s not at all the case of what’s happening. We provide book for children who need books to see themselves or to see other people that they know and to see how the world works. And that’s not the same as indoctrinating children, so that whole push and the fact that it’s been very much vilifying toward teachers and librarians and authors and others that are really trying to provide children the experiences that they need in order to become adults in the world as it actually exists. 

And that’s been a big change and, you know, going to work and feeling like people are gonna call me out or call me names just because I’m doing what I believe in my heart is best for our kids is a little bit different. 

Brittany: And when you talk about preparing young people for the world, as it is, not how some people wish it would be. Just to put this in context, Cody, Wyoming is about 10,000 residents, 95% of whom are white. 

Jennisen: Correct.

Brittany: So the world you’re preparing your students for is big and expansive, even beyond that, 

Jennisen: Correct. Because our students are likely to not stay in Wyoming. I mean, I talk to these students. I work in K through 12. Our high schoolers are talking about going out and getting experiences out in the world. They want to see the world and that’s great. That’s what we want them to do. But they’re going to encounter things that are not in Cody and we need to be able to prepare them for that as well.

That’s part of our job.

Brittany: So George, you’re coming to this from the other end and your incredible book All Boys Aren’t Blue, award-winning I should say. It has been banned frequently over the last year, plus really for a really heartfelt representation of a queer Black experience. One way to look at this is that you’re in great company, right? In Genesis’ district this year, people try to get The Handmaid’s Tale banned.

They try to get The Color Purple banned. The district committee rejected those challenges. But as an author, George, how do these bans really impact you? 

George: I always say, like, to make any list with Toni Morrison was just a dream for me. So like to be on a banned book list. But as a author, you know, it’s tough because all you wanna do is just tell your story or tell a story that you didn’t get to have when you were a teen or when you were a young adult and you needed those words to know that you existed in the world and you needed those words, because you didn’t have the words to even say what it was that you were feeling. And so when you put something into the world, like I did, that existed for 17 months.

And was doing perfectly fine. And I was watching all of these beautiful reactions from teenagers, not just here but across the world because the book was in multiple translations. And then all of a sudden it goes from a love fest of this beautiful story of family, to a hate fest of LGBTQ people, of Black people, of Black LGBTQ people.

It’s really demoralizing. I, fortunately was raised by strong people, many strong Black women, as well as queer people in my family, so me taking on the fight was never not an option. Like it was, I was always going to take on the fight and I even knew at some point the book would be banned. I didn’t think it would look like this.

I didn’t think it would be this heavily politicized. I didn’t think I would become like public enemy number one on the hit list at this point. I don’t know, I take it all in stride and I kind of live by the principle of the forbidden fruit. And it’s like, if you forbid something, it makes more people interested in it.

And I am fortunate that because of the amount of interest teens who didn’t know that they had a book that existed for them now do know and are getting it. So. 

Brittany: Ah, yeah. I, you know, when I watched your face kind of become one of the poster children for this conversation in my mind, I was like, oh, they chose the right one.

Like George, if anybody’s ready for the fight, it’s George. Tell us what your book is actually about versus what people say it’s about. 

George: Yes. So, the running thing with my book, which also lets me know that they’re not reading the book because the running thing about my book is that my book is pornography and pedophilia and grooming.

Right? That’s like the three things that they hit on, but I know they’re not reading the book because if they read the book, the part where I critique Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, as well as Abraham Lincoln comes before I start talking about sexual abuse and agency. And I know that if they had got to that chapter first, they would’ve been very, very upset about some of the things I said about the forefathers.

So I know they’re not even reading the book, but the book is actually about family. Like, I talk about my grandmother. I have a letter in the book to my mother. I have a letter in the book to my younger brother. I talk about my experience growing up with my father, as well as having a gay older brother who actually recently passed a few weeks ago.

The heart of the book is really my grandmother nanny. And so just about what it looks like to be a Black queer child who didn’t have the words and then a youth who at the age of 10, that’s when other kids started to realize you were different. And then by 15, you’re questioning your identity. But I always had a place to call home.

And so it shows like this beautiful story of even though the world in society felt like it was against me I always had a family that always had my support and how queer kids can become if they just have the support and they just get the tools and the resources that everybody else has afforded. 

And so, yeah, I just think it’s like a powerful journey through one’s true life experience when you don’t fit inside societal constructs.

Brittany: Yeah. I mean, I, when I was first starting to get to know you and your work, I remember all of the beautiful pictures and stories you posted about your nanny and I felt like I knew her. Right? I felt like I loved her and that came so alive for me as I read the book. And then I’m thinking about a news alert you got just this morning about young people in my home state of Missouri. What’s the, what’s the news that you got about All Boys Aren’t Blue in Missouri?

Missoura, not Missouri. 

George: Yeah. Missoura . So the headline reads new Missouri law will ban sharing visually explicit materials with students and just real quickly educators across the state will soon have to remove certain, visually and sexually explicit books and materials from the school libraries and shelves.

Senate bill 775 would make it a class A misdemeanor for school officials to provide this content to students in private or public Missouri schools. 

Brittany: Wow. 

George: With exceptions for artistic and scientific significance, violators would face a year in jail or a $2,000 fine. 

Brittany: Wow. 

George: It’s always interesting though, because of the way that the federal law is, they always have to put the exception for artistic significance. And that’s the part that they often fail specifically with my book, because even in several of the court cases we’ve had, we had to prove the artistic significance. And like once we started putting the, all the awards that had won, that it was the number one book chosen by teens in 2021.

And all the judges were like, you can’t say that this doesn’t have artistic significance when teens and the American libraries, like it has all of the things that says, it’s it has the merits, but this bill is a lot milder than the criminal complaints that I’ve had at six different sheriff offices. So. 

Brittany: Good God. Well, George, what the hell is going on with these criminal complaints? Why are you being pulled into Sheriff’s offices? 

George: What started that wave is that when certain conservatives, primarily white citizens feel that they aren’t being heard they like to use 911 as a personal concierge service.

And so it’s like if they actually follow the rules of the school board and the school board makes a decision, like, okay, we’re keeping the book. And then the superintendent backs that decision and they follow all of those policies and they still feel like they didn’t get their way, then criminalization is the route that they are choosing to go.

So all of the complaints have been under the pornography law, which is basically you can’t disseminate porn into a minor. What’s happened in several of those cases is the actual sheriff or like someone in the police department has read the books like that they’re challenging and they’re like, yes, there are things in here that talk about sex or sexuality.

However, we cannot deem text pornography because it’s a very, like the law on what is pornography and what is it pornography is very, very clear. And they’re like, these books have thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of words that relate nothing to that. And you’re literally saying because of these three or four paragraphs that this thing should now be deemed pornography. 

So they’re continuing with it. I think their next step is gonna be federal lawsuits. We know where they’re going. They have a conservative Supreme court. They really wanna overturn the 1982 Pico case, which gave students the right to choose what books they want in their libraries.

So they’re trying to get it to the Supreme Court so that the 82 case can be reviewed.

Jennisen: It doesn’t surprise me, unfortunately, because we’re seeing it so often, but it does hurt my heart and it makes my heart sink because basically what they’re doing is turning off people’s voices and our young people need to hear positive voices.

Like you mentioned before, we don’t have a lot of diversity in Cody. People are surprised to find out that we have LGBTQ IA+ students in Cody. I think they’d be even more surprised to find out that some of the adults also identify in those ways and just watching those and knowing that we have people in Wyoming that might be wanting to pull that same kind of law in is kind of got me fired up in my belly a little bit too, to make sure that these are voices that need to be heard.

We don’t know which kid needs to hear it. So it needs to be in our library for whoever it is that does. 

Brittany: Yeah, we’re talking about the tactics that these conservative activists, I use the word activists very loosely here, are using to get books banned. Jennisen, what do a lot of these cases have in common, right?

What’s similar about the states where the banning is actually occurring?

Jennisen: One of the things that we see is it’s the same material and it’s the same complaints. So we’ve, we’ve started to see that there are groups that are sending out packets of information and putting up websites with the information that say, when you go to your school, these are the passages you’re gonna complain about so that they don’t even have to touch the book before they go in and actually complain about it at school board meetings, then they’re taking it to legislators and getting them all riled up.

They’re reading the salacious passages in the school board meetings, which are televised now for transparency things. And that gets everybody riled up. Particularly the people who think that these are topics that are somehow out of the for children. And unfortunately dating is not out of the norm for children.

Sexual exploration is not out of the norm for children. And I say that with children, including teenagers, it definitely should be out of the norm for younger children. 

Brittany: Of course, of course. 

Jennisen: But with Georgia’s book, for instance, his book was not meant for kindergartners. And one of the tactics that’s being used at school board meetings is that they come in and they specifically use that word children.

And they use it to invoke the idea of this being handed to a kindergartner. And that is absolutely not the case.

Brittany: Jennisen, what you’re talking about is making me think about this recent story out of Oklahoma, the teacher who provided her students with a QR code so they could access Brooklyn’s public libraries banned book list.

She wanted to pass out the code because the rules in Oklahoma were becoming super strict about introducing or creating a quote hostile environment for kids based on race, ie they didn’t want white kids to feel bad about themselves. Right? So she said, I’m gonna give them this QR code that they can access these books outside of the four walls of this school.

And then she ultimately ends up resigning. She said, and I quote, I don’t feel like I can go back into a classroom right now in this state and the environment we find ourselves in and do my job. Jennisen, are you hearing a similar sentiment from librarians? Are they just fed up? 

Jennisen: Yes. There’s a lot of us that are fed up.

And in fact, right before I came to this meeting, I was in a meeting with my principal talking about our policy for selecting books and having them reviewed by a committee before we can put them in the library. And I was sitting there thinking really, that’s my job. You know, but I have to have somebody else look over my list to help protect me.

And I will say that in Wyoming, it is not nearly as bad here as it is in Florida, in Texas, apparently in Missouri, in Oklahoma, Tennessee. And we are seeing that a lot of those laws are the exact same wording from one state to the next. So somehow or another people are talking to each other. 

Brittany: Copy and paste the hate.

Jennisen: Yes. 

Brittany: Which brings me back to you, George, we look at books like yours, and I think we can often and easily say representation matters. We’ve heard that, we know it matters, but I also think that your book really goes beyond mere representation. What do you think are the ways that you’ve extended or moved beyond mere representation in your book that are really the things that feel threatening to the parents who are complaining about it?

George: That’s really at the crux of the issue, right? It’s like, oh my God, like not only does this book teach LGBTQ teens and Black queer teens that they exist in the world. It also teaches my child empathy for their existence. And it’s also teaching my child that all of the things that they learned about the people who founded this country were inaccurate.

And that there’s more to the story like, and it teaches my child that my child may be playing a role in someone else’s oppression. And that’s what this book is teaching. Right? It’s also informing the students that exist around people like us of how to better treat us what their role is in society versus how our role is in society.

And it’s also giving resources in many ways to make those teens who are not queer, because of some of the topics I talk about in the book, question everything. And that was the ultimate goal. Right? What happens when you indoctrinate teens with the truth, specifically teens who will be the next set of teens who are in power and even more when you indoctrinate Gen Z, which is the most diverse population of any generation in the United States? What happens when you give an actual population that will be more people of color than white, the truth?

And I think that’s the fear. It’s like they all may band together, which we’re watching happen. And I think they, the youth are rising and that’s, that’s really what it is. Yeah. 

Brittany: Hello. yeah. This phrase indoctrinate with the truth. That’s the sticking point, right? That’s what people are actually afraid, young people will be indoctrinated with. We’re we’re thinking of calling this episode The kids are alright. It’s the adults who are fucked up.

George: I mean, that’s really what it is. Like the kids are alright. 

Brittany: Yeah. The kids are definitely alright, especially when they’re able to read books like yours, George. I’m curious what you’ve heard from young readers of your book. How have they, how have they responded? 

George: You know, even the situation in Florida, even though certain right-wing people were able to get on school boards, like the case where the criminal complaints were filed against me,the student who took it up, Jack, when my book first got banned and the criminal complaints happened. He DM’d me. And so we, that was back in November. And so I started working with them behind the scenes and literally he’s been to the White House because he led the school walk out. They got the woman who filed the criminal complaints. She lost 51 to 49.

So they actually were able to mobilize and get her off the school board. But it’s not just him. I’ve seen the petitions in Kansas city where my book was first banned, which was Kansas city, Missouri. Those students there, I talked with them, had a huge petition, got the book back into school. So like they are being empowered by the text.

And I think they read the text, like, like they read my book and it is a survival story in many ways, but then they actually still have me alive and they watch my fight and watch how fervent I am in my fight. And I think it inspires them even further because they’re like, it’s not just these words on a page.

We actually still have the person here and we are watching them go this hard. And I think that’s what’s happening.

Brittany: It’s the power, that’s what folks are afraid of. It’s the power. You know, a lot of the calls for book banning are coming from a group that calls itself Moms for Liberty, which is of course funny, considering that their kids are not at liberty to check out whatever books they want, but that’s beside the point.

Their mission they say is to stand up for parental rights at all levels of government. Jennisen what have they, in groups like them been able to achieve, right? So we know that they’ve gotten books banned, but what else have they tactically gotten done? And what has it been like dealing with them? 

Jennisen: I am a mom. I have a nine-year-old and I actually firmly believe in liberty and I believe that my child should have access to everything the world has to offer. And I might not necessarily agree with it, but I want him to think through it. You know, so as I was listening to you talk about that idea of indoctrination, I was like, well, you know, that’s such a buzzword now that has such negative connotations to it. 

And what I think that people are fighting is the idea of these children or young adults thinking for themselves and coming to a different opinion from their parents. And as a librarian, that’s what I wanna have. And I love seeing these young people because even here in Cody, Wyoming and I better put in a claim here that I am not speaking for my school district.

Brittany: Of course. 

Jennisen: Even though I am a district librarian, our students are ready to take on those challenges. 

Brittany: That’s right. 

Jennisen: I want our people to be able to think for themselves and look at the world and fix it. That’s what I’m hoping is gonna happen.

Brittany: That’s why you do what you do, right? And that kind of critical thinking and inquiry is always age appropriate.

I too, am a mom. I’m a new mom. I’m very sure. First of all, that these Moms of Liberty would wanna ban every single book that is in my baby’s library, that we’ve already started reading him. But George, I always find it interesting that the parents whose rights seem to matter to this group are always the same.

They’re white, they’re cisgender, they’re at least straight presenting. They’re conservative. They’re often women, but the people who are legislating are often men. What does that spark for you? 

George: I don’t know, it’s just comedy. I, it’s like, I had one call where I didn’t know I was gonna be on an interview with one of the Moms for Liberty.

And so it got all the shock value that it wanted when she was like, and, you know, I read your book, but I don’t think this and this and this and this. And I was like, oh, but you’re fine with Romeo and Juliet. And she’s like, well what do you mean? And I was like, I mean, Romeo was much older than Juliet, so you had a grooming issue there.

I said the same thing you’re talking about in my book, and it’s a suicidal love story I said, but you’re fine with your child reading that. And so then the newscaster was like, so yeah, let’s talk about it. So I just find it kind of, like I said, nonsensical at best and yeah I just don’t know where it ends. Right? 

Because it’s like, okay, so you got it out the library, but now. it’s at the airports, now it’s in Barnes & Noble, now it’s at Target, now it’s at Walmart because now you’ve given it so much buzz and you’re giving our books all of this stuff and we’re finding new access points. So you eliminated one access point.

We found five more for your team. What exactly did you win? 

Brittany: What exactly did you win? At UNDISTRACTED, we are always concerning ourselves with what resistance looks like. I mean, we’re talking about the way students are resisting. We’re talking about the way librarians and educators are resisting.

You have been resisting really creatively, right? Like working to ensure that there are free copies of All Boys Aren’t Blue available across the country. You help turn the text of your book into an award-winning dramatic reading, which is incredibly powerful. And I think there may be something, a little something else in the works with Gabrielle Union.

So you can pick up the book and, or hopefully soon you can watch the TV show. Talk to me about what creative resistance looks like. 

George: I think what’s going to happen is, you know, as authors we have a lot of rights. Like you get a contract, that’s like all of these different rights, like dramatic rights, this right, that right.

And for me, I’m like, that’s what our next step has to be. Right? How do we take our text, the text that they’re trying to ban and find creative ways to turn them into other projects in different mediums and in different formats, right? You have books that are now going to be turned into Broadway, right?

Like, I still have a lot of different rights and a lot of different ways that I can take these words and turn them into something else. Honestly, it’s staying one step ahead, right? And you know, before you know it, it just becomes so expansive that there’s really nothing they can do to stop the work getting into the hands of the youth who really, really need it.

And I’m also seeing the teens come up with creative ways. You know, whether they’re pulling their favorite quotes from the books and turning them into shirts and turning them into  

Brittany: Oh wow. 

George: Their senior projects. I’ve had a lot of artwork sent to me from an art class, like where every different student did like their own rendition of the book cover.

So I think there’s other ways that we are figuring out around to still inspire and to still keep the kids with the materials that they really, really need.

Brittany: Before I let both of you go, help put into context what this means if we allow book banning to become part of the character of America. Who are we becoming? What does that make us?

Jennisen: That is a fantastic question to ask because it scares me to death because to me, this is an absolute attack on our first amendment and our right to read, our right to gain information, our right to share our own stories. The irony of the first book this year, being challenged in my district, being The Handmaid’s Tale was not lost on me because when I read it, the focus in it to me was the fact that they literally silenced the women and they took away their ability to even say hello to each other. This is shutting down an entire voice. And if we do that, our government, as we know it in our country, as we know it will not survive. 

Brittany: Yeah. George you are very literally the chair of, is it Banned Books Week?

George: Week. Yes.

Brittany: Bring it full circle for me. What are some banned or taboo books that were pivotal in changing your own life and were offering you solidarity when you needed it most?

George: I would say certain books, like it was the Three Negro Classics, but we read it. I think, I feel like we were in like the sixth or maybe seventh grade when we read it.

And I remember it was like this really thick book cuz they put all three of these books into one book. Yeah, I read, like, I feel like it was like a, a youth version or something of like the autobiography of Malcolm X. And like, that was another book that like really changed the way that I thought about a lot of things.

And now this is gonna sound really, really silly, but I remember being in college, I feel like Confessions of a Video Vixen came out in college. 

Brittany: From the Three Negro Classics to a hood classic. All right. 

George: But I just remember that book because it shook everybody, right? There was not, my mother read it, my aunts read it. Like there was nobody who hadn’t read that book. In reading that book though, one thing it taught me, especially as a memoirist, is that when you tell your story, you often are telling other people’s stories. I’ve been thinking about it for the last two years, like, wow that’s kind of interesting how, like just the notion of telling the truth or the notion of telling your truth can rattle so many people. 

Brittany: Well, I’m grateful to both of you all for continuing to shake up the world in the ways that you do. Jennisen, George, thank you for spending time with us. And we will absolutely be standing with both of you as you make sure that we don’t go backwards. Only forwards. Thanks y’all so much.

Jennisen Lucas is a librarian in Cody, Wyoming, and the former president of the American Association of School Librarians. George M. Johnson is the author of All Boys Aren’t Blue, which has been optioned for television by Gabrielle Union.

Y’all the comparisons should be obvious, racist, xenophobic, fascist nations ban books. Free countries don’t. We are either cool with being just like Hitler and his band of hate filled brothers. Or we are absolutely disgusted at the mere thought and we do everything in our power to stop us from crossing the gravest of lines there are. 

You think this wouldn’t even be a debate, let alone a political selling point, but lest we forget in every era where freedom becomes more abundant, people who perceive their power to be threatened will retaliate. Marginalized people here and across the globe know this all too well. Indigenous, Jewish, Muslim, Black, Asian, Latine, disabled, queer, and women communities around the world know all too well.

Our freedom will be met with repression. It’s guaranteed and any fascist worth their weight and paraphernalia will be committed to starting that repression with children, the young people who in their estimation cannot and must not know truths that will set them and the rest of us free, because if they do, they will question everything.

They’ll challenge everything. They’ll stop obeying the unjust loss and start writing just once they’ll stop subscribing to your institutions, your ideologies and your expectations, and just go out and build their own. The audacity of youth serves revolutions well. In every successful changing of the social guard for the sake of freedom, young people have led the way and we are wise never to limit them, but always to follow them.

Hey, that’s it for today, but never for tomorrow. We’re taking a break next week. So we’ll see you on September 15th, the first day of National Hispanic American Heritage month. 

UNDISTRACTED is a production of The Meteor and Pineapple Street Studios. 

Our lead producer is Rachel Ward.

Our associate producer is Marialexa Kavenaugh.

Thanks also to Treasure Brooks, Hannis Brown, Raj Makhija, and Davy Sumner.

Our executive producers at The Meteor are Cindi Leive and myself, and our executive producers at Pineapple are Jenna Weiss-Berman and Max Linsky. 

You can follow me at @MsPackyetti on all social media and our team @TheMeteor.

Subscribe to UNDISTRACTED and rate and review us on Apple podcasts or most places you find your favorite podcasts. 

And especially to you young folks out there, thanks for listening, thanks for being, and thanks for doing.

I’m Brittany Packnett Cunningham. Let’s go get free, y’all.