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Past Event

Theodore Johnson: Overcoming Racism and Renewing the Promise of America

Join us for a virtual discussion with Theodore Johnson, who begins his book When the Stars Begin to Fall by declaring that “Racism is an existential threat to America.” Johnson argues that our society's continuing racism not only contradicts the American Promise enshrined in our Constitution that all men and women are inherently equal, but also continues to corrode our society after a quarter of a millennium. If we cannot overcome it, he says, the United States may continue as a geopolitical powerhouse, but it will fail to make good on the promise that made America unique on Earth, and gave hope to the oppressed throughout the world.

Johnson makes a compelling case for a pathway to the national solidarity necessary to mitigate racism. Weaving memories of his own family’s multi-generational experiences with racism, alongside strands of history, Johnson posits that a blueprint for national solidarity can be found in the exceptional citizenship long practiced in Black America. Understanding that racism is a structural crime of the state, he argues that overcoming it requires us to recognize that a color-conscious society―not a color-blind one―is the true fulfillment of the American Promise. Fueled by his ultimate faith in the American project, grounded in his family’s longstanding optimism and his own military service, he offers an urgent call to undertake the process of overcoming what has long seemed intractable.


This is a free-for-members program. Members: Click on the "Buy Tickets" button above to order your tickets, and select the members link on the left side of the page. Your username is the email you used to sign up as a member. You can also request a password reset if needed. Discount will automatically be applied at checkout.

This is an online-only program; please pre-register to receive a link to the live-stream video.

Copies of When the Stars Begin to Fall are available for purchase at checkout (U.S. domestic shipping only); our thanks to Marcus Books in Oakland for fulfilling book orders

Marcus Books

This program is part of our Good Lit series, underwritten by the Bernard Osher Foundation.

Bernard Osher Foundation

In association with The Commonwealth Club's Humanities Member-Led Forum.

Johnson photo by Kimberly Burton.

June 15, 2021

United States

Image - Theodore Johnson

Theodore Johnson

Sr. Fellow, Brennan Center for Justice; Former Commander, U.S. Navy; White House Fellow, Obama Admin.; Speechwriter, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Author, When the Stars Begin to Fall: Overcoming Racism & Renewing the Promise of America

Image - Sheryl Davis

Sheryl Davis

Executive Director, San Francisco Human Rights Commission—Moderator


10–11 a.m. (Pacific Time) program