Harrison Paletta
Equinox Staff

On the evening of March 9, investigative journalists Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace discussed their book “First Generation” during an online webinar. Both Mr. and Mrs. Wallace said, “‘First Generation’ tells the inspiring stories of the courage, achievements and determination of 36 trail blazing immigrants and refugees to the United States who have helped make this country a stronger place.”

“This was a real challenge for me going from four years of researching one person, to researching 36 people in a very short amount of time, in what is known as a collective biography,” said Sandra Neil Wallace last Tuesday.

The Wallaces are award-winning nonfiction authors of books for young readers that focus on people who break barriers and change the world. Several of their books include “Blood Brother: Jonathan Daniels and His Sacrifice for Civil Rights”; “The Teachers March! How Selma’s Teachers Changed History”; and “First Generation: 36 Immigrants and Refugees Who Make America Great.”

Rich Wallace said, “We wrote this book to celebrate the contributions of immigrants and refugees. We wrote it in 2017, when newcomers to this country were being vilified from the highest level of our federal government. The book is our reaction to that.” A few immigrants that were discussed included Barbara Young, Hamdi Ulukay, Dikembe Mutombo and Meb Keflezighi.

Rich also said, “Most of the books we’ve done have much longer profiles than what’s being presented here. Each profile in ‘First Generation’ is about 350 to 400 words, so to be able to capture the essence of a person in that few amount of paragraphs was definitely a challenge. We narrowed it down to what’s something that happened in their childhood that brought them to be who they are as an adult and why.”

Sandra Neil also added to that, saying, “What’s really exciting for us is to introduce young readers to people who are under the radar and who you may have not heard about.”

The Wallaces are both on the advisory council for the Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Keene State College and are founding members of the Keene Immigrant and Refugee Partnership. In addition, both co-founded THE DAILY GOOD, an all-volunteer nonprofit committed to breaking barriers and creating change by making the lives of Keene community members better through initiatives that support diversity and inclusion, food security, literacy and health & wellness.

Kim Schmidl-Gagne is a staff member who was involved with planning this event. “This event was originally scheduled last spring and connected to a theme of civic engagement with the works of local authors and we transitioned to address this year’s theme ‘Re-Membering to Heal’,” Schmidl-Gagne said. She continued, “The Wallaces were able to reflect on how these inspiring and trail blazing immigrants have helped to make their communities stronger.”


Harrison Paletta can be contacted at

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