Geneva Reads “The Color of Water” – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Geneva Reads “The Color of Water”

As the AmeriCorps VISTA coordinator at HWS, Holly Kahn has been working with a variety of groups, both on campus and off, to increase civic engagement and combat problems of race, class and poverty in Geneva.  

Recently, Kahn has been chairing the Geneva Reads committee and working with members of the local government to establish an annual event known as “The Community Read,” with this year’s events dedicated to the late Linda Blackwell, who worked at the Geneva Public Library for more than 19 years.

Blackwell will be honored this March, when the first annual Community Read will begin with a city-wide reading of James McBride’s “The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother.”

“The Color of Water” details the life of McBride’s mother, Ruth, and her remarkable story.  Born to failed Orthodox rabbi who fled Poland and settled in Suffolk, Virginia, a small town filled with racial tensions, Ruth left her home and her sexually-abusive father for New York City, where she married a black minister and founded the all-black New Brown Memorial Baptist Church in her living room.  She preached the belief that “God is the color of water” to her 12 children, telling them that life’s blessings and values rise above race. Ruth’s determination ensured that her children got through college and most through graduate school before she herself received a degree in social work at the age of 65.  Throughout the book, McBride reflects on his experiences as a mixed-race child of poverty and his eventual self-realization. 

Joann Myers

“We have a number of families in Geneva who bring together parents of various ethnicities and cultures, and we have some great examples right here of how families sometimes tackle the issues that come up in intercultural relationships,” Einstein says.  “We should not focus on the differences between us and among us, but the similarities.”

The month long event will kick off on Wednesday, March 3, when Einstein will name March the City of Geneva’s “Community Read Month.”  

On Saturday, March 6, the College Store at 51 St. Clair St. will host a complimentary brunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., featuring a one-day 30 percent discount on “The Color of Water,” and will be giving away 10 copies of the book.

Author Eileen Loveman will host a hands-on workshop on the art of memoir writing at the Geneva High School Library Media Center on Wednesday, March 10 from 6 to 8:30 p.m.  

A community discussion will be held on Sunday, March 14 at the Geneva Public Library, 244 Main St., where complimentary copies of the book will be available to the first 10 registrants.  To register, contact Beth Horn at (315) 781-2935 or

The Finger Lakes Times is sponsoring a memoir writing contest with two categories, adult and high school, where local residents are encouraged to draw on the theme of book and tell their own stories. All submissions should be made to by Monday, March 15. Winners will be printed in the Finger Lakes Times on Sunday, March 28.

Throughout the month, more than 400 juniors and seniors at Geneva High School will participate in the Community Read of “The Color of Water.” 

Mayor Stu Eisenstein

“Community Read Month” will culminate with “Parents Are From Mars, Kids Are From Venus: The Game Show,” on Sunday, March 21 at the Geneva Community Center Black Box Theater from 1 to 3 p.m.  The program, produced by the Geneva Human Rights Commission, will consist of parent-child couples pitted against each other to determine what they know or don’t know about their shared cultural heritage.

“This has been just a great collaborative effort,” says Kahn.  “This is only possible thanks to the efforts among a lot of organizations in the community.” 

The Geneva Reads First Annual “Community Read” is sponsored by Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Geneva City School District, the Geneva Community Center, the Ramada Inn, Finger Lakes Times, Geneva Public Library, the Geneva Human Rights Commission and the African American Men’s Association. Additional support is being provided by Lyons National Bank.

Geneva Reads is a network of community partners that is dedicated to inspiring a life-long love of reading through literacy initiatives that reach out to all members of the Geneva Community. Programs include Community Bookshelves located at various locations around Geneva, School- Age Book distribution that ensures every child in Kindergarten, Grade 1 and Grade 2 receive five books each year, Books at Birth which ensures that every child born at Geneva General Hospital receives a copy of “Goodnight Moon,” Book Fest, which is held in the Spring and the Community Read. For more information visit  

In the photo above,  Aaron Backhaus ’00, a Geneva Middle School guidance counselor and linebacker coach for the Hobart football team, is photographed with his copy of “The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother.”