I read some amazing books this month! It was filled with black girl magic and a re-read of one of the books and authors I fell in love with as a teenager.
Native Son by Richard Wright. I re-read Native Son in anticipation of HBO’s release of the movie. Native Son takes place in Chicago in the 1940’s and follows a young black man named Bigger Thomas. Bigger has everything working against him and this story follows his downward spiral after he panics and accidentally kills his employer’s daughter. Race, racism, poverty, dreams, hopelessness – it’s all there. The story was written in the 1950’s but can easily fit into today’s landscape. *MOVIE SPOILER ALERT* I found it interesting that in the movie Bigger is shot to death before standing trial, especially since the trial was a huge part of the book. But, sadly, that is probably how Bigger would have ended up today. It is very conceivable that he wouldn’t even be given the chance to stand trial. Sad, but true. This book will always be among my favorites.
Finding My Voice: My Journey to the West Wing and the Path Forward by Valerie Jarrett . I have admired Valerie Jarrett since she came on the scene with the Obamas. Though I admired her, I never really knew much about her. She has a very interesting story, beginning with being born in Iran to parents who left a segregated America for better job opportunities. Her family has deep and historical roots in Chicago and her stories of family and coming of age were interesting. She, like Michelle Obama, was a “box checker.” She had a plan for her life. College, law school, law career, marriage, kid…and she checked all of the boxes. And still, she wasn’t happy. She became a single mother, juggling an unsatisfying corporate law career, and knew that she wanted more for her life. She ended up finding her voice while working for Harold Washington’s administration, and that put her on the path to becoming the longest serving Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama. It was while working at City Hall that she met a young Michelle Robinson (another unhappy attorney) and gave her a job. My only complaint about the book was the time spent discussing her time in the Obama Administration. I would have loved to hear a few more stories about her college years and law school years.
The Path Made Clear: Discovering Your Life’s Direction and Purpose by Oprah Winfrey. “There is no greater gift you can give or receive than to honor your calling. It’s why you were born. And how you become most truly alive.” This book was a whole sermon. I listened to this one on Audible so Auntie Oprah could preach to me. She opens each chapter with her own words and inspiring stories and incorporates wisdom from some of her favorite conversations with some amazing people. This book was a breath of fresh air. “Everyone has a purpose.” And, according to Oprah Winfrey, “your real job in life is to figure out as soon as possible what that is, who you are meant to be, and begin to honor your calling in the best way possible.” At the end of this book, I vowed to honor my calling and make the necessary moves to live on purpose.
At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance: A New History of the Civil Rights Movement From Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power by Danielle L. McGuire. This book was A LOT. It is depressing, frustrating and possibly triggering for some. But, it is also a necessary story. I appreciate this book for honoring the true legacy of Rosa Parks. Rosa Parks was a revolutionary, but history has portrayed her as a meek and mild hero of the movement. Long before she became the “Mother of the Movement,” she was fighting the good fight as an investigator of sexual crimes for the NAACP. Taking on these cases was a revolutionary act. McGuire takes a look at the Civil Rights Movement through a prism of sexual abuse of black women by white men and with a focus on gender. The Civil Rights Movement really began by black women having the courage to stand and demand respect. A must read.
I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whitness by Austin Channing Brown. I loved this book and totally appreciated the honesty and candor of the author. I found myself shaking my head in agreement so many times and feeling completely seen. Navigating this world as a black woman takes skill – real talk. I appreciated her stories and lessons of what her parents taught her about how to be. The talks her parents had to have with her about never putting your hands in your pockets while you are in a store and how you should always have your receipt readily available…just in case. These are the same things I am having to talk to my young sons about now. Her work with a Christian organization exposes the racial divide in religion and her stories about her life in corporate America highlight the problem with the buzz word “diversity.” I also appreciate that this book challenges the reader to find answers, force a change in thinking and do the work to confront racism.
Reclaiming Our Space: How Black Feminists Are Changing the World From the Tweets to the Streets by Feminista Jones. Reclaiming Our Space is a deep dive into how social media gave an even louder voice to Black women and how that has changed and continues to impact culture, society, activism and change. Feminista Jones gives us the backstory on all of the hashtags we have come to know and love – #BlackGirlMagic, #SayHerName #BlackLivesMatter, #RapeCultureIsWhen – and the list goes on. It is an account of just how powerful and important our voices are. This book is also a valuable piece on Black Feminism and how it is instrumental for our liberation – and how social media has and will continue to play a huge role in it.
We Live for the We: The Political Power of Black Motherhood by Dani McClain. We Live for the We was an interesting look at what being a Black mother really means. I had never considered it to be a revolutionary act, but it really is. The title caught my attention. What does it mean? Dani McClain explains that it’s from a quote from an activist named Cat Brooks. When individual’s desires come up against larger community need, “our job as Black mothers is to keep pushing the liberation ball down the court…our obligation is to leave the world better for them and to ensure that they are equipped with the tools that they need to fight…I tell my daughter all the time – and it’s harsh – but we don’t live for the I, we live for the we.” This book touches on several considerations for Black parents. What kind of community are we creating for our kids? What’s best for their educational journey? Discipline. How we teach our kids about their bodies and how to be Black in America. How do we raise fearless and joyful Black kids? There’s a lot here. The author is a fairly new mother. I would love to read a follow up to this book when her child is a teenager.
On the Come Up by Angie Thomas. On the Come Up is the story of 16-year old Bri. Bri wants to be a rapper and that is her hope for getting out of the hood. Bri’s main problem is that she is the daughter of one of the neighborhood’s legendary rappers. Her father died when she was young, but she still lives in his shadow. She is desperately trying to show the world who she is, tell her story, stand on her own and use the rap game as a way to “come up.” There’s so much drama in Bri’s world – dealing with the death of her father, her relationship with her mom who is a former addict with financial struggles, boys, friends, high school, and being surrounded by gang life. But, Bri continues to fight for her dreams. This book good. Not great. Perhaps my expectations were too high. I LOVED The Hate U Give, but I didn’t get the same kind of feels with this one. Nonetheless, it’s still a book I would recommend to a young literary audience.
How High the Moon by Karyn Parsons. The main reason for choosing this book was the author. Yall remember Hillary from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air? Well, she’s an author! Plus, this book takes place in SC (my home state) so that was a plus. How High the Moon is the story of 12 year old Ella, who lives with her grandparents in Alcolu, SC. She has a best friend named Henry and a cousin Myrna. Sadly, Ella is bullied a lot because of her light skin. Ella’s mom is in Boston pursuing a jazz singing career and she doesn’t know her father. She spends a month with her mother where she discovers things about her mom and the father she never knew. All of this complicates her life. Upon returning home, she finds out that her classmate, George, has been arrested for the murder of two white girls. I appreciated the fact that George’s story was based on a miscarriage of justice that took place during the time in which this story is set. George Stinney, Jr., who was wrongfully convicted at the age of 14 and was executed by electric chair in June of that year. He is the youngest American to be sentenced to death and executed. I thought the book was a bit slow in parts, but I still think that this is a great book for the littles and a great add to an elementary/middle school library bookshelf.