My favorite books on social justice and the need for transformative change

Why are we passionate about this?

As a duo, we’re a mix of things. For Akwasi, I’m a changemaker, professor, and academic. My work examines the intersections of race, crime, and criminal justice, and my current research spans criminal justice institutions and various aspects of drug legalization in Canada and beyond. For Tahira, my career has been less than linear, with experiences spanning the investment, cannabis, and consumer sectors as an investor and entrepreneur. I realized my forte lies in sitting in the middle, streamlining complexity, and remaining dedicated to the people who need help most. Together, we’re committed to shaping the future of business and policy by integrating diverse perspectives and lived experiences.


We wrote...

Waiting to Inhale: Cannabis Legalization and the Fight for Racial Justice

By Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, Tahira Rehmatullah,

Book cover of Waiting to Inhale: Cannabis Legalization and the Fight for Racial Justice

What is our book about?

This book illuminates the stories of those on the front lines of the War on Drugs—the individuals and communities disproportionately harmed; the official and social forces ranged against them; and the victims, activists, and entrepreneurs who are fighting back. As attitudes toward cannabis shift, now is the time to expunge cannabis convictions and make a place in the legal market for Black and other underrepresented groups who have borne the brunt of harsh and unjust laws.

A powerful indictment of one of the worst social and political failures in the nation’s history, the book offers an equally powerful vision of the possibility of redemption. Communities can be rebuilt, and racist policies must be overturned to give way to a new era of justice.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Under the Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on American Lives and on the Health of Our Nation

Akwasi Owusu-Bempah and Tahira Rehmatullah Why did I love this book?

This book should be required reading and not just for healthcare professionals.

For us, it was a necessary awakening. Until we had to become advocates for our health, we didn’t realize how fragmented the American healthcare system truly is, especially if you are Black or a minority. Even though we know racism permeates every nook and cranny of the world, it didn’t click with us how far it went until this book.

Linda Villarosa is a brilliant journalist who digs into so much that it makes our heads spin. It made our hearts ache and inspired us to want to do more.

By Linda Villarosa,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Under the Skin as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF 2022 BY THE NEW YORK TIMES

The first book to tell the full story of race and health in America today, showing the toll racism takes on individuals and the health of the nation.

In the US, Black people have poorer health outcomes than white people at every stage of their lives: Black babies are more than twice as likely as white babies to die at birth or in the first year of life; Blacks in every age-group under sixty-five have significantly higher death rates than whites. Racial disparities in healthcare are…


Book cover of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

Akwasi Owusu-Bempah and Tahira Rehmatullah Why did I love this book?

Michelle Alexander doesn’t need another recommendation for her book, but we’ll do it anyway because it’s that good!

We love books that amp us up and make us feel smarter after we’ve read the last page. Like the wool has been uncovered from our eyes, we would argue it may be one of the best books about civil rights, but since we haven’t read them all yet, we’ll lean on how well-written, alarming, and inspiring it is.

Even though we thought we knew a little about a lot of things, this book showed us how much more there is to learn and share.

By Michelle Alexander,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked The New Jim Crow as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Seldom does a book have the impact of Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow. Since it was first published in 2010, it has been cited in judicial decisions and has been adopted in campus-wide and community-wide reads; it has been the winner of numerous prizes, including the NAACP Image Award; and it has spent nearly 250 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Most important of all, it has spawned a whole generation of criminal justice reform activists motivated by Michelle Alexander's unforgettable argument that 'we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.'


Book cover of Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure

Akwasi Owusu-Bempah and Tahira Rehmatullah Why did I love this book?

We’re drawn to books that tell real stories to help personify topics, and Dan’s book does just that. We thought it was gripping and intense, with great lines that we returned to highlight.

Although it was written in the 90s, the message still resonates, as well as the realization that the fights are long and hard but worth it.

By Dan Baum,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Smoke and Mirrors as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For sheer government absurdity, the War on Drugs is hard to beat. After three decades of increasingly punitive policies, illicit drugs are more easily available, drug potencies are greater, drug killings are more common, and drug barons are richer than ever. The War on Drugs costs Washington more than the Commerce, Interior, and State departments combined - and it's the one budget item whose growth is never questioned. A strangled court system, exploding prisons, and wasted lives push the cost beyond measure. What began as a flourish of campaign rhetoric in 1968 has grown into a monster. And while nobody…


Book cover of How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence

Akwasi Owusu-Bempah and Tahira Rehmatullah Why did I love this book?

We read Michael Pollan’s essay in the New Yorker and jumped to this book shortly after. We loved it, not because of the novelty of “drug” talk, but because of the charm, naivety, and lack of agenda with which he handles the subject.

We found ourselves rereading passages so we could really absorb the words because we wanted to go on and tell everyone who would listen to us about it!  

By Michael Pollan,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked How to Change Your Mind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Now on Netflix as a 4-part documentary series!

"Pollan keeps you turning the pages . . . cleareyed and assured." -New York Times

A #1 New York Times Bestseller, New York Times Book Review 10 Best Books of 2018, and New York Times Notable Book

A brilliant and brave investigation into the medical and scientific revolution taking place around psychedelic drugs--and the spellbinding story of his own life-changing psychedelic experiences

When Michael Pollan set out to research how LSD and psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) are being used to provide relief to people suffering from difficult-to-treat conditions such…


Book cover of Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption

Akwasi Owusu-Bempah and Tahira Rehmatullah Why did I love this book?

It’s hard to find nonfiction books that feel a lot like fiction, and we sprinted through this book for that reason.

The author weaves personal narrative and public policy into a web that depicts the very tragic impact of unjust laws and racism.

We read the book after seeing the movie (which is also incredible), and we can say that we were just as impacted and enamored as we were during the film. Maybe even more! 

By Bryan Stevenson,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Just Mercy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE, STARRING MICHAEL B. JORDAN, JAMIE FOXX, AND BRIE LARSON.

A NEW YORK TIMES, WASHINGTON POST, BOSTON GLOBE, ESQUIRE, AND TIME BOOK OF THE YEAR.

A #1 New York Times bestseller, this is a powerful, true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix America's broken justice system, as seen in the HBO documentary True Justice.

The US has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. One in every 15 people born there today is expected to go to prison. For black men this figure rises to one…


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The Truth About Unringing Phones

By Lara Lillibridge,

Book cover of The Truth About Unringing Phones

Lara Lillibridge

New book alert!

What is my book about?

When Lara was four years old, her father moved from Rochester, New York, to Anchorage, Alaska, a distance of over 4,000 miles. She spent her childhood chasing after him, flying a quarter of the way around the world to tug at the hem of his jacket.

Now that he is in his eighties, she contemplates her obligation to an absentee father. The Truth About Unringing Phones is an exploration of responsibility and culpability told in experimental and fragmented essays.

The Truth About Unringing Phones

By Lara Lillibridge,

What is this book about?

When Lara was four years old, her father moved from Rochester, New York, to Anchorage, Alaska, a distance of over 4,000 miles. She spent her childhood chasing after him, flying a quarter of the way around the world to tug at the hem of his jacket. Now that he is in his eighties, she contemplates her obligation to an absentee father.




The Truth About Unringing Phones: Essays on Yearning is an exploration of responsibility and culpability told in experimental and fragmented essays.


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