Jamaica Plain resident Chuck Collins, who is a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. and co-founder of inequality.org and the JP Forum, has penned a new book, “Born on Third Base.” The Gazette recently conducted a question-and-answer session through email with Collins about the book. For more information about the book, visit bit.ly/2gZdxWn. (The session has been edited.)
What was your motivation for writing “Born on Third Base?”
I’ve been working on issues of inequality for 30 years–but I came to appreciate that people have powerful stories that justify inequality, what I call the “myth of deservedness.” “Born on Third Base” is really about privilege and social inequality—and inspiring examples of people who are leveraging their advantage to build a more equitable society.
What was the writing process for you like?
Pretty fun. I fit it in around my day job, with some early mornings. With all the internet and social media distractions, it’s challenging to concentrate. Sometimes I have to hide out at JP Licks and Ula Café to just focus.
Who is the intended audience for your book?
I’m writing for a wide audience of people who care about inequality and the state of the world. Part of my message is to those who have economic advantages, people in the top 5 percent of income and wealth holders. I encourage them to “come home,” bring their full stake in a place, bring their wealth back to local communities, and fix the future.
To a wider audience, my message is organize to protect our communities, but not forget there are potential allies among the wealthy for these social movements.
You had a premier book launch in Jamaica Plain in October. How was that received by your audience? Did anyone ask you any challenging questions? How about in events in other cities around the US? What critiques have you heard about this work?
The JP event was fabulous with over 140 people coming by. The biggest concern I heard was people feeling that the wealthy are a breed apart, that they don’t care and are the root of our evils. I understand this anger and despair. But part of my message in “Born on Third Base” is there are allies among the wealthy. The wealthy are not monolithic and many people are waiting to be engaged in something more meaningful to address our social problems. I do understand why people feel skeptical of this. That’s why I want them to hear stories of 1 percenters stepping up.
You were “born to the one percent,” but “gave up your inherited wealth for a life of fighting the vicious inequality that is destroying our country.” Can you elaborate more on this part of your background and how this might show in your book?
I grew up in the 1 percent in the affluent Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills. While this is not a memoir, I describe my own experience growing up in an affluent family—and why I chose to give the wealth away to groups like the Haymarket People’s Fund, which is based in JP. I also try to demystify the many ways that racial and economic advantage work in our society through stories from my own life and others.
JP is really a character in this book. There are many stories of people in JP and organizations such as the Jamaica Plain New Economy Transition and the Curtis Hall Community Center. My church, First Church JP Unitarian Universalist at the Monument, piloted the first “resilience circles” in the U.S.
How did Morris Pearl come to write the foreword?
I’ve gotten to know Morris in the last couple years. He was the managing director at Blackrock, the biggest investment firm in the country. And he is the chairman of the Patriotic Millionaires, a network of high network people speaking out for fair taxes, higher wages, and campaign finance reform. I thought he would be the perfect person to write the foreword.
Can you explain why you chose your title?
Texas Governor Ann Richards once said about George W. Bush: “He was born on third base, but thinks he hit a triple.” We have lots of “born on third base” presidents, including the President-elect. I was “born on third base,” but know I didn’t get there on my own.