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Necessary Risks: Challenges Privileged People Need to Face

Teri McDowell Ott
Fortress Press, 206 pages
Published March 15, 2022

Epiphany was an auspicious time to read Teri McDowell Ott’s Necessary Risks. Her insightful work drew me down a path toward increased facility with engaging issues of diversity and racial justice. Part memoir, part literature review of esteemed authors of color, and part prophetic challenge to the privileged of today, she shines a light on her personal path of revelation and growth, lighting my own path as well. Readers will find in her vulnerability a place for their own, in her invitations a challenge and in her suggestions a path toward personal transformation.

Ott chronicles her journey as a pastor and college chaplain who intentionally and bravely moves toward greater understanding of privilege, racism, racial injustice, and the risks and choices that can challenge and transform relationships and structures. Her vulnerability and personal story provide a compelling narrative structure and invite readers to their own personal reflection.

The book identifies risks privileged people can take to move away from self-isolating comfort zones, including staying, going, listening, learning, leading, failing and succeeding. Each “risk” includes insights drawn from an author of color’s writing as well as quotes and summaries of these prominent thinkers. Thanks to Ott’s “syllabus,” I was inspired to order books by these authors and now have a reading list to continue my discovery.

A further strength of this book is Ott’s achievable suggestions for actionable engagement. She concludes each chapter with practical suggestions for risk-taking that lead to personal growth, interpersonal understanding and increased social awareness. Ott’s aim is not simply to engage minds but to inspire readers to actively “risk” engagement with our communities and with others of diverse identities. As she concludes, “I hope, dear reader, that you hear an invitation to the struggle through this book, which is also an invitation to life. It’s an invitation for privileged people to move beyond fear, to take necessary risks, to heal and free our souls. The struggle is life and life-giving. The more we privileged people embrace this truth and its necessary risks, the more we can participate in the liberation of us all.”

Clergy groups could read together, holding one another accountable for taking “risks.” Pastors could use this book as a framework for a sermon series or with small groups eager to actionably engage and reflect on issues of privilege and racial justice. I look forward to leading members of my congregation down this path, perhaps as a spring or summer study this year. The book would work best if groups process their learnings together, hold one another accountable for taking risks, and offer space to reflect on their personal experiences of stretch and transformation, following Ott’s own example.

Take a risk on this book; I promise there is reward. Better yet, read it with a group in your congregation, and the reward will be multiplied. May the light of Epiphany guide wise travelers to this book and to engage in the transformational journey to which Ott invites us.

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