April “It’s Lit” Review

June 4, 2020

What a month. We are still in the midst of daRona, and my reading slowed a bit, but I managed to read seven amazing books. This month I got in a little revolutionary poetry, which is always refreshing and I got fired up by Netflix’s release of Self-Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker – which led to all kinds of research on Annie Malone and low-key obsession with the woman that Netflix chose defame. More about that later.

“The afflicted pray for healing– just as hungry people pray for bread, but when has God ever sent bread? In my recollection of the scriptures, God has always sent a woman.”

Demaris B. Hill

I picked up A Bound Woman is a Dangerous Thing: The Incarceration of African American Women from Harriet Tubman to Sandra Bland by Demaris B. Hill thinking that it was going to be just another Black poetry book. I was wrong. Black women are powerful beyond measure and we have been since the beginning of time. This book is part history/part poetry. Before the poems, the author implores you to understand how we got here. There are poems for our ancestors, our warriors and the women who have been victims of racism, sexism and violent crimes. This is truly a powerful work of art, but it is also painful. It is page after page of our pain and rage. But it is also a celebration of our power and perseverance. It is an ode to us.

“One of the biggest issues with mainstream feminist writing has been the way the idea of what constitutes a feminist issue is framed. We rarely talk about basic needs as a feminist issue. Food insecurity and access to quality education, safe neighborhoods, a living wage, and medical care are all feminist issues. Instead of a framework that focuses on helping women get basic needs met, all too often the focus is not on survival but on increasing privilege. For a movement that is meant to represent all women, it often centers on those who already have most of their needs met.”

Mikki Kendall

I love a good book on Black feminism and I was ready for this one. Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall is a fresh critique of the current movement and all of the gaping holes in it. There are quite a few times that I had to check myself because I had never considered some of these issues as a part of the movement. The movement fails to make room for intersectionality when it comes to issues like living wages and food insecurity – on top of being Black. And of course there’s the issue that we have always had regarding the privileged. Privilege makes you blind to oppression. The greatest harm to Black women has been White women – from voting for Trump to advocating for restrictive anti-abortion legislation, none of it has been in our favor. Are we in the same fight or not? Mikki Kendall brings it all home by sharing her personal story of domestic violence, food insecurity, Black motherhood, fighting to get an education and much more. This is a refreshing look at where the movement is and how we need to stop and recalibrate to make it a more inclusive fight. It was a very thought provoking and informative read.

“Defining freedom cannot amount to simply substituting it with inclusion. Countering the criminalization of Black girls requires fundamentally altering the relationship between Black girls and the institutions of power that have worked to reinforce their subjugation. History has taught us that civil rights are but one component of a larger movement for this type of social transformation. Civil rights may be at the core of equal justice movements, and they may elevate an equity agenda that protects our children from racial and gender discrimination, but they do not have the capacity to fully redistribute power and eradicate racial inequity. There is only one practice that can do that. Love.” 

Monique W. Morris

Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools by Monique W. Morris is an eye-opening look at the school to jail pipeline for our Black girls. Just 16 percent of female students in the USA, Black girls make up more than one-third of all girls with a school-related arrest. How could that be? There are so many reasons why our girls end up in the criminal justice system and most of them can be remedied with better public policy and reforms within the educational system that take into account all of the issues these young women are dealing with instead of pushing them into the system. Additionally, all teachers, administrators and anyone in the education system can be a part of the solution and a shift in culture can help change the outcome for so many Black girls. I think this book is a must read for everyone, but it is especially important for people in the business of education to read and understand. There is so much work to be done. There is also a PBS special on Pushout that was excellent. I recommend this book and PBS.

“I wasn’t there when Mike Mike was shot. I didn’t see him fall or take his last breath, but as his mother, I do know one thing better than anyone, and that’s how to tell my son’s story, and the journey we shared together as mother and son.”

Lesley McSpadden

We know so little about Micheal Orlandus Darrion Brown. Sadly, we only know about the way he died, what his final moments were like and how his death changed Ferguson and this country. Tell the Truth & Shame the Devil by Lezley McSpadden is a mother’s attempt to tell the world about her son and all of the obstacles they overcame together. I remember seeing her on the news after her son was murdered. She was crying and emotional (totally understandable) and she was saying that it had been hard to get him to college. This book is their story. Lezley McSpadden was a teenage mother who gave birth to her baby boy at the age of fifteen. She was a high school dropout and a working mother who did her best to raise her kids. Raising Mike and his siblings was a challenge and Mike had a tough time in school. Thanks to a counselor, teachers and a mother who cared, they got him to the finish line and he graduated from high school. It was a great achievement for him and her. Shortly after, he was murdered. My heart broke for her again as she recounted the phone call and as she raced to see her son dead in the street and the days that came after. She was thrown into the public eye as her son become the impetus for a history making uprise in Ferguson. This isn’t the greatest book. There was more about her than Mike. I still appreciate it and her, though. This is her gift to him. It’s her way of letting the world know that he was more than a hashtag. He was her baby boy, a treasured member of their family, a kid with a kind heart and a future college student. He was more than a hashtag. This book reminded me to celebrate the lives of the brothers and sisters we have senselessly loss and not just mourn their deaths.

“Nothing but uncertainty is certain. Circumstances come together, only to fall apart moments or months later. And then, in a flash, we must rise up and regain our footing. In the rearview mirror, I now see so clearly what escaped me then: It’s not that the ground underneath me was suddenly shifting; it’s that it is never still. That’s part of the work of my journey—getting comfortable with life’s groundlessness.” 

Alicia Keys

I have been rocking with Alicia Keys since the first time I heard “Fallin” on the radio. I was a piano player in my former life, so to hear her song with all of this piano…and beats…and soul was refreshing. Alicia has come a long way from the teenager with cornrows. More Myself is her story. This book resonated with me because Alicia has been and continues to be in search of herself. Aren’t we all? She started in the music industry as a teen and through countless ups and downs she is finally starting to understand who she is and embrace her truth. She shares the stories behind some of her most famous lyrics and the one that touched me the most was the story about her grandmother dying. I listened to this book via Audible because Alicia is the narrator. Also, she tells the story with the help of a few special guests, including Oprah and Michelle Obama (they narrate their parts as well) and stories about people in the industry who influenced her, including Prince. It wasn’t the best celeb biography I have read, but I still enjoyed it.

I failed to write down a fancy quote for The Last Negroes at Harvard: The Class of 1963 and the 18 Young Men Who Changed Harvard Forever by Kent Garrett and Jeanne Ellsworth. Blame it on daRona. The Last Negroes is the part memoir/part historical account of the eighteen “Negroes” who Harvard accepted as a part of an early affirmative action experiment in 1959. These young men matriculated at Harvard when the state of Black America was rapidly changing. Kent Garrett was one of the students and fifty years later he was wondering what ever happened to the others. That’s how the book begins and throughout it, we learn about what Harvard was like back then and what it was like to navigate the waters at an Ivy League at that time. Some of them did well, others had had lives, some were traumatized by their time at Harvard while others were indifferent. They were “Black” but they were also culturally diverse. They were Afro-Cuban, Barbadian and from all over the country. Kent Garrett was extremely thorough…and a bit long-winded. I would have enjoyed this book more if it were a little shorter. Nonetheless, I appreciate this story. They paved the way for all who came after them.

My final book of the month was A Friend to All Mankind: Mrs. Annie Turnbo Malone and the Poro College by John H. Whitfield. I am an Annie Malone fan, but the premier of Self-Made on Netflix made me run and get this book. I will be devoting an entire blog post to this book and to Annie Turnbo Malone, so stay tuned.

That’s it for now!

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