On the Shelf and Screen

Book, television, film and podcast recommendations from Janai Nelson, LDF's 8th President and Director-Counsel

To Read

Civil Rights Queen

Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality

By Tomiko Brown-Nagin

Constance Baker Motley has finally received her biographic due in this comprehensive, insightful, and sweeping book by civil Rights and legal historian and dean of the Harvard Radcliffe Institute, Tomiko Brown-Nagin. From the first few pages it is clear that the extensive research about Constance Baker Motley extraordinary life and remarkable legal career will further cement Motley at the center of the civil rights movement and among the most impactful jurists in this country’s history.   

The Light We Carry

By Michelle Obama

The Light we Carry is the book we collectively need right now as we continue to rebuild following a tumultuous few years, marked by isolation and separateness. Her book artfully elucidates the tremendous power that we have when we come together and find community how transformative it can be to “start kind,” tap into your inner strength, and lean on your “kitchen table” to tackle life’s challenges. Mrs. Obama delivers these helpful tools with her signature grace and relatability. It’s the perfect way to end the year.

A Woman of Endurance

By Dahlma Llanos Figueroa

This Afro-Latina author of a past favorite, Daughters of the Stone, shares another riveting novel centering Black women in Latinidad. Set in 19th century Puerto Rico against the backdrop of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, this story of strength, resilience, and reclamation is a page-turner until the end.    

The Final Revival of Opal and Nev

By Dawnie Walton

Dawnie Walton hits it out the park in this debut novel about an interracial rock music duo that is a fictional retelling of events so seemingly veritable it’s head-spinning. The brilliant use of interviews of the characters brings you closer to them and adds to the blurring of fiction and fact. 

The Emergency

A Year of Healing and Heartbreak in a Chicago ER

By Thomas Fisher, M.D.

Of the many stories about the South Side of Chicago, rarely is one told with such searing humanity about its residents as this first-hand account by Thomas Fisher, nationally renowned health policy expert and board-certified emergency medicine physician who chronicles the COVID pandemic through a series of beautifully penned letters from the ER.  

All About Love

New Visions

By bell hooks

Just a year after her passing, bell hooks’ 2018 volume about how to love a nation in despair, division and chaos, takes on a new depth of meaning and urgency. Read it as a roadmap, as remembering, and a source of inspiration.  

To Watch


Danielle Deadwyler’s performance in Till is reason enough to see the movie, but the story of Mamie and Emmett Till has never been so sweetly recounted as it is in this film. The further in time we become from the tragic murder of Emmett Till, the more important it is to ensure that we never forget this stain on American history and the legacy of a brave mother. 

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Wakanda’s vision of an afro-futurist utopia is the kind of imagination we need in this moment of rebirth in our democracy. The artistic balance of tradition and transformation was exquisitely paired with a stirring tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman. Nota bene: If you haven’t seen Boseman play Thurgood Marshall, you should add that to your holiday list.   


I was late to this series and am so glad I came to it before the finale. Donald Glover’s comedic and political brilliance and performances of the extraordinary cast are the perfect recipe for a binging that will leave you laughing, looking up every cast-member, and humming Paper Boi. 

Abbott Elementary

The sobering reality that our hyper-segregated public education system underserves its mostly Black and Brown students, and that teachers are central to any solution to improve their welfare, could not be more brilliantly portrayed than in Quinta Brunson’s sharp-witted spoof Abbott Elementary. Brunson and the cast featuring her and the magnificent Sheryl Lee Ralph bring to life the realities of an inner-city public school through deadpan humor that is reflective and nuanced. 

Reasonable Doubt

If you’re looking to wind down with a dramatic legal thriller that is equal parts sisterhood, empowerment and complicated characters, Reasonable Doubt is your show. I was especially drawn to the focus on the main character’s early career as a public defender, dimension of lawyering that is rarely if ever glorified for the critical intervention in provides in our criminal legal system and the lifeline it is for so many persons accused of committing a crime.

To Listen

The Sum of Us

By Heather McGee

Heather McGee brings to life the real-world experiences and forgotten histories that animate her award-winning book of the same name.  A master story-teller, McGee provides pragmatic optimism about what is possible for our multi-racial, multi-ethic democracy if we reckon honestly with privilege and power.   


A Year of Transformation

As 2022 comes to a close and we march forward into 2023, we look back on the challenges and triumphs of the past 12 months. In the face of mounting threats to our democracy and attacks on truth, LDF remains steadfast in our mission working in service of Black communities and worked tirelessly to advance racial justice and build an inclusive, multiracial democracy.