Maggie INK

This Project, established before her death by UofO co-founder Maggie Thompson, is raising $5,000 to publish Jim Gilbert’s memoir. Here is how the book is described:

Jim Gilbert competing in a spelling bee during the 2008 Fullilove Fall Fair. Jim (left), Ben Jones (middle), Maggie Thompson (right) who won the spelling bee.

It is the story of an abused child who grew up to be addicted to drugs and alcohol, who survived prison and life threatening relapses and was eventually able, with the help of others he met on his long road, to turn his life around – to marry, to father a loving, multi-racial family, to achieve a PhD in social work and to spend decades working with marginalized people in the South Bronx while advocating for social change through community action and trade unionism. It is also a story of white privilege and generational shift – of contrasts between the life of a first generation son of Polish Immigrants and an African American teenager at different times in New York City history; of the differential effects of society on those who live within it and the possibilities and limitations of social change.

Jim Gilbert was chosen as this year’s Maggie INK award winner based on the enthusiastic nomination of the QRM Writing Group, of which he is a member. QRM Writing Group was established 23 years ago at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. Participants in the group have completed 26 dissertations and 19 books, as well as many scientific presentations, grants and projects. The QRM-Writing Group wrote of Jim and his book:

A life so rich, so richly filled, that even a novel could not do it justice; but a memoir just did. And guess what? It’s a memoir about justice. This book will change the way you see the world. Told with humor, honesty, and love, Jim’s story weaves redemption and tragedy in a compelling narrative. It lingers with you like an old friend long after you’ve turned the last page. Jim Gilbert writes of gratitude for those who helped him along the way. Now it is the reader’s turn to be grateful — for his memoir of a life transformed by courage and grace.

About Maggie and her project

At the age of 90, Maggie Thompson ran the bridge club at her senior center, taught English to Haitian immigrants at her church and began writing her memoir. Many nights she did not sleep. She had stories that she needed to get down. She wrote essays about farm life in Ohio during the Great Depression, being one of the first whites to join the NAACP in North Carolina in the early 1940s and her first date with her husband in Harlem where, though an interracial couple, no one gave them a second glance. For four decades she was legal secretary to a leading constitutional rights lawyer and helped win landmark cases protecting our civil liberties. She fought for justice and equality not just in her political acts but also in her personal choices. She endured the alienation of her parents and the scrutiny of her government. The arc of Maggie’s remarkable life intersected all the major historical events of the Twentieth Century. From a spare but happy childhood in rural Ohio, loved by parents who with firm, good-natured guidance taught her the morality that formed the bedrock of her personality, she saw the ravages of the Depression, then engaged in the war effort and experienced tragic loss during World War II. She joined the struggle for Civil Rights, and worked to ensure the rise of labor unions and secure women’s rights. All her life she engaged the world with feisty intelligence, sharp-witted humor and tenacious courage.

The Maggie INK project has previously supported the work of the South African physician, Dr. Selma Browde, who was a leader in the fight against Apartheid. In 2015, we raised money so that a UofO team could visit with Dr. Browde and her co-workers and then spend a week in a writing retreat to draft the memoir. She has continued to work on it and looks forward to completion in 2020.

The Maggie INK team gathered in South Africa in 2015 to work with Selma Browde

Jim Gilbert says of his writing journey:

Four years ago I was compelled to retire from a job that I loved, ending a social work career of over forty years. This devastating blow was compounded by the suicide of a beloved client. At this time of almost total despondency, Mindy Fullilove invited me to join a group of writers, in that I was considering writing about my recent experience as an op-ed or journal article. I subsequently met this group of outstanding people whose immediate suggestion was to write a book instead of an article, convincing me that I have an important story to tell.

The guidance, friendship, and support that I received over the past four years was not only a healing experience but a tremendous learning experience. I recall the words of John Wooden, who said, “When you stop learning, you stop living.” The Group provided a mechanism to learn within a spirit of down-to-earth honesty and mutual respect. I realize now that career change can occur in any part of the life cycle and I will be eternally grateful to Mindy, Ann Burack-Weiss, Maura Spiegel, Simon Fortin, Kelli Harding, John Kavanaugh, Helena Hansen, Craig Irvine, Vivian (Didi) Heller, and Jack Saul.

I am living proof of the wisdom of Maggie Thompson: ‘Start writing. You’ll feel better!’

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