Free Cyntoia: My Search for Redemption in the American Prison System by Cyntoia Brown-Long is Cyntoia’s story, in her own words. At age 16, she was sentenced to life in prison for murder. She tells the story of her early teen years, which were filled with juvenile treatment facilities, drugs, sex and low self-esteem, which eventually led her to become easy prey for predators. She shares all of the details of her transformation and spiritual journey in prison. It was a constant fight to maintain composure, sanity, a dream for her life and the courage and faith to believe that she would one day be free. For most of her life in prison, she had not even known what trafficking was or that she was actually a victim of it. She was too young to know. But once she found it, it was the impetus for eventual freedom. Thanks to a social media campaign that was supported by celebrities, Cyntoia’s plea for clemency from prison was finally granted. Cyntoia’ story is honest, raw, emotional, frustrating and redemptive. It also shines a light on all of the ways our criminal justice system continues to fails the most vulnerable members of our society – our children.
She Came to Slay: The Life and Times of Harriet Tubman by Erica Armstrong Dunbar is a salute to epicness and badazzery of Harriet Tubman. Most people only know about HT’s work on the Underground Railroad, but there was so much more. Erica Dunbar does a great job of going into the details of what HT’s journeys back to slave territory was like in both an informative and entertaining way. I was especially pleased that this book covers HT’s time during the Civil War, when she worked as a spy for the Union Army, was a nurse, a radical advocate and opened a home for the aged. We do not get enough stories about the fullness of Harriet Tubman, so this one is very much appreciated. The book also includes a timeline of HT’s life and pictures. Oh…and it was entertaining, too. HT came to slay for real and I loved how the author mixed in a little pop culture to help all of us learn about one of the greatest super heroes to ever do it.
The Legs Are the Last to Go: Aging, Acting, Marrying and Other Things I Learned the Hard Way by Diahann Carroll is a book I probably should have read a long time ago. Diahann Carroll has always been one of my favs…like since the days of watching Dynasty with my mom at the ripe old age of 5 (I don’t know why I was still awake and watching nighttime soaps…smh). After she passed away, I found myself wanting to know more about her and lo and behold, I found her autobiography. Yassssss! This book was everything I thought it would be and more. Diahann Carroll is everything I thought she’d be and more. She is funny, honest, entertaining, vain, self-aware, reflective, intelligent, barrier-breaking and pure black girl magic. She held very little back, as she went through her struggles with relationships – all kinds. Their were too many failed marriages to count and one affair with Sidney Poitier that had me shaking my head. There’s the familial relationships with her parents and daughter that were the most enlightening and heartbreaking. There’s the joy in her voice as she talks about her grandchildren. And then there’s alllllll of the things she did before I came to know her as the bad bish on Dynasty. She was truly talented. I loved this book and I love her even more now (if that’s possible).
Letter to My Daughter by Maya Angelou is a little book of wisdom that is a gift. She writes, “I gave birth to one child, a son, but I have thousands of daughters. You are Black and White, Jewish and Muslim, Asian, Spanish speaking, Native American and Aleut. You are fat and thin and pretty and plain, gay and straight, educated and unlettered, and I am speaking to you all. Here is my offering to you.” How lucky are we? Very. This book felt like letters from home and sitting at my grandmother’s feet on a warm day. There were so many lessons and so many takeaways on compassion, joy and pain, love and loss and gratitude. This is a quick read, but the lessons and stories linger. One of my favorite quotes from the book was, “The ship of my life may or may not be sailing on calm and amiable seas. The challenging days of my existence may or may not be bright and promising. Stormy or sunny days, glorious or lonely nights, I maintain an attitude of gratitude. If I insist on being pessimistic, there is always tomorrow.” There is always tomorrow. Mother Maya came with a good word and several sermons and I was thankful for each and every one. Plus, I devoured this one via Audible and got to hear her tell me what I needed to know. Winning!
A Song for You: My Life with Whitney Houston by Robyn Crawford was a lot. It was so much that it needed it’s own blog post. Check out the full review in the “It’s Lit” section.
The Little Book of Big Lies: A Journey into Inner Fitness by Tina Lifford is the book you need to keep on your nightstand and refer to often. Once I finished, I immediately knew that a re-read would be necessary in order to catch all of the gems and wisdom (and take notes). Tina Lifford is truly thee “inner workout” coach and trainer. This book is well-written and easy to ready. It’s full of honesty and “aha” moments. She lays out the blueprint for living well, removing the barriers that hold us back and how to thrive…not just live. So, if you need a guide for how to live your best life, this might just be it.
With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together by Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee made me miss my favorite black love couple even more. I have always been in love with their love, their activism and their talent. I chose to read this one via Audible because Ruby and Ossie were telling their story, so you already know it was amazing. This was a behind the scenes look at their lives, where they came from, their love and marriage, and their sacrifices. They were around and associated with many of our heroes – like MLK and Malcolm X. Many times, their careers suffered because of the choices they made, especially during the Civil Rights Movement. More than anything, they truly loved each other. I am elated that they left this for us. It’s a story of lives well-lived.
This past summer, I visited the Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, AL. The book, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson was for sale there and it’s been on my list of books to read since then. Bryan Stevenson is the public interest lawyer behind the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), which is an organization committed to ending mass incarceration in the US. This book chronicles his career, which is dedicated to defending the wrongly condemned and righting the wrongs of our criminal justice system. I won’t lie, this book is depressing. But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it. We should all read it and commit ourselves to fighting against injustice, wherever it may be. As Bryan Stevenson takes us through his career, case by case, innocent person by innocent person, and execution by execution, I couldn’t help but think about his mental health. How is he doing this? Where does he get the strength? I was weary just reading it. But thank God that there are people out there who are willing to do this work. I was touched by his meeting with Rosa Parks and how she encouraged him to just keep going. The greatest lesson from this book for me was to have more compassion and mercy for those caught up in the system. It is and has always been unfavorable to us. Reform of the system needs to start with mercy. Just mercy…
Everything Inside by Edwidge Danticat is a collection of short stories about an array of characters and situations that will have you in deep thought. There are eight stories in all and some were better than others. All of the stories are complex, emotional, sometimes painful and thought-provoking. All of them also have a tie to Haiti. All of the characters or either Haitian or Haitian-American. At the end of each story, I wondered (for a long time) what their futures looked like. What happens when you are faced with that kind of disappointment, loss and tragedy. How will each of these people find their way? I wouldn’t mind a sequel to this one. I really want and need to know what happened next.
It was a good literary month. ..