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I grew up obsessing over presidents.

I memorized them all at age 6, a weird party trick that adults adored and other kids, well, it may shock you to learn they weren’t as dazzled.

I kept on obsessing over presidents into adulthood; my best friend threw me a presidential-themed bridal shower, complete with presidential charades in which someone who drew President George W. Bush memorably threw a shoe at herself.

But on Friday night, I wasn’t watching the current president stand under the shadow of Mount Rushmore to preach white power and authoritarianism. I was watching “Hamilton” on my couch, in which a richly diverse and wildly talented group of people tell the story of a Founding Father who was never president.

The juxtaposition of the two events was another 2020 moment so absurdly, clearly stark, it would have been rejected from any Hollywood writer’s room. Yet it and the Fourth of July offer a good chance to celebrate people who’ve shaped the country from outside of the Oval Office.

So, since this whole newsletter is essentially a reading list anyway, here are three of my favorite books about unsung Americans that I’d like to casually suggest be made into world-changing blockbuster musicals.

The Woman Behind the New Deal: FDR was a president who did big things. Yet the architect behind some of the best-known and most successful New Deal programs was not Roosevelt but Frances Perkins, the first woman secretary of labor. She’s credited with nothing less than helping establish the American middle class.

Capitol Men: It might be hard to remember, given the current state of our politics, that the era following the Civil War briefly saw a remarkable class of Black politicians sent to Washington. A handful of these neglected leaders are the focus of this book, including Civil War hero-turned-congressman Robert Smalls, and integration advocate and senator P.B.S. Pinchback.

A Singular Woman: Speaking of presidents, one of our most recent ones was raised by a single mother that most of us know very little about. Though Barack Obama wrote a book called “Dreams From My Father,” he’s largely credited his mother with instilling the values and work ethic that helped elevate him to the most powerful role in the world. This book traces her life and their relationship.

What VOSD Learned This Week

Everyone is still rightly panicking about what school will look like next year. But this week we produced some devastating investigative work about what the old system has wrought.

Westview High School has racked up a string of accusations of student harassment and abuse, most of it involving teachers and athletic coaches who groomed young girls. We talked about the Westview cases and all things schools on this week’s podcast.

And Will Huntsberry analyzed data from across the county and found Black students are far, far likelier to be suspended. One guidance counselor said her 5-year-old son’s teacher called police on him. In kindergarten. (KPBS, meanwhile, found Black youth were more than four times as likely to be arrested or detained than their White peers by San Diego Unified Police.) No wonder students and activists are demanding police be removed from schools.


First, smart streetlights were pitched as a tool to fix mobility issues. Then, we learned police were accessing the footage – but supposedly only in the “most serious” cases. Now, we know SDPD accessed the streetlight cameras 35 times following recent Black Lives Matter protests, to investigate what they say were vandalism and other potential crimes committed by demonstrators.

Elsewhere in law enforcement news, Maya Srikrishnan continues to follow truly horrific accusations coming out of Donovan State Prison, near Otay Mesa.


Cannabis business owners say Border Patrol routinely intercepts shipments of legal products between Imperial and San Diego counties.


There’s still a lot county officials aren’t sharing about where new COVID outbreaks are happening.

What I’m Reading

Line of the Week

“Let me say the quiet part loud: In the Covid-19 economy, you’re allowed only a kid or a job.” – I love Deb Perelman’s recipes, and now I love her advocacy too.

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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