Jennifer Mooney and Byron McCauley

Special Social Column by Bob Wilhelmy 

Social justice, racial equality, interfaith activism, and hope for the future were center stage at a recent book-signing event held at the home of Michelle and Greg Young of Indian Hill. 

Literary stars of this show were authors Jennifer Mooney and Byron McCauley, who over the course of ten months or so, wrote a series of letters to each other that turned into the book Hope Interrupted: America Lost & Found in Letters. 

The authors personify the classic Odd Couple of stage and silver-screen fame. Mooney is a white woman, Jewish by heritage, raised in Cincinnati, affiliated with movements focused on improving race relations, now living in artsy Taos, New Mexico with her family. McCauley is a black man, a Christian, born in deep-south and hard-scrabble Plain Speaking, Louisiana, Harvard-trained in marketing with corporate PR and journalism creds as well, now calling Cincinnati home for himself and his family.

The letters the two exchanged grew out of an email relationship they shared, the catalyst for the lost art of letter-writing being the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020. “We just felt that we needed to put our thoughts and feelings down in a more formal way, and that’s how the letters started,” Mooney said. The anthology features personal reflections on a wide range of topics, including but not limited to social justice, race relations and racial equality, religious beliefs, and the lack thereof, and angst concerning a divided American society seemingly at swords point over just about everything.

The two authors’ disparate backgrounds melt to nothing in the light and heat of the passion they share for an inclusionary, engaged nation seeking the betterment of all, they agreed. When Floyd was murdered, Mooney and McCauley were deeply affected by the coalescence of people around the Black Lives Matter movement. The letters came fast and furious after that.  The book now in print became something of an obsession as gun violence, hate crimes directed at minorities fueled the authors’ need to vent, distill, clarify, and comment on life in today’s USA.  

Hosts Michelle and Greg Young brought together an array of guests that included influential leaders of the Greater Cincinnati area. After reading passages from their new book, the authors opened the forum to comments and questions. Charmaine McGuffey, Sheriff of Hamilton County, was among those who addressed the gathering. She spoke on changing the culture of the office she heads, envisioning a county-wide team committed to transparency, building trust, protection of citizens, and listening to the ideas and concerns of the community.

Former councilman Wendell Young, who served as a Cincinnati police officer for many years, also commented on policing. He stated that while McGuffey is an enlightened leader, few police departments nationwide are led by chiefs who share her community-oriented, engaging approach. He sees the arc of social justice changing for the better only when the majority of America’s eighteen thousand or so police departments move toward community engagement and away from the tactics that spawned the Black Lives Matter movement.

Others who amplified that and other messages were Sherry Hughes, former WCPO meteorologist and journalist; Honorable Nadine Allen, retired Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge; Tami Sullivan, emcee of the evening’s event and representative of EquaSion’s A Mighty Stream, an Interfaith Community of Sacred Activists for Racial Justice, along with other members of the audience.