“Reach: 40 Black Men Speak on Living, Leading, and Succeeding,” edited by Ben Jealous and Trabian Shorters, foreword by Russell Simmons
c.2015, Atria $15.00 / $18.00 Canada 275 pages
Where do you go from here?
You’ve been looking at your life and everything around you, and that’s the question you’ve been asking: what next? What will you do with the rest of your days? In the new book “Reach,” edited by Ben Jealous and Trabian Shorters, foreword by Russell Simmons, you may find some guidance.
What you see is what you do.
That’s natural. Says Ben Jealous, “…imitation has always been the first step for those who achieve great things.” It’s easy to emulate positive behavior and success, once you see it done – which is what you’ll find in this book.
When D’Wayne Edwards was sixteen, he lost his beloved older brother. That, says Edwards, “really encouraged me to pay attention to my gift” of drawing and design. Realize your “true potential,” he advises.
Says actor Louis Gossett Jr.: learn that you can play Superman.
Shaka Senghor was still a teenager when he was sent to prison and “was on course to become the best predator I could be,” until journaling helped him look at his life and “the most absurd stuff you can imagine.” Write down your thoughts, he says. Read them and “understand that [they] have power.”
Read, says Dr. Eddie Connor. “We’ve got to promote books instead of prison bars…”
Ben Jealous advises taking risks. Learn math, says Emmanuel Cephas. Broadcasting executive Ron Davenport says to “Be in the room where the decisions are made.” Learn to fail, says aviator Barrington Irving, but don’t let it be an option. Name your future, says Van Jones. Become involved in politics, get an education, and cultivate empathy. Be financially literate, and promote entrepreneurship. Be a role model, and ask for mentors. Work collaboratively, and lift up future generations who come after you.
And above all, stay hopeful. Loss of hope, says Reverend Tony Lee, can “sabotage [your] faith.” Says Yusef Shakur, “without… hope, poverty becomes overwhelming.”
Says Senghor, “… hope, man – hope is the saving grace.”
Wow. Though it’s only a few ounces of paper and ink, “Reach” truly packs a punch.
There’s a lot of takeaway in this book, for starters. Editors Ben Jealous and Trabian Shorters invited 40 black men from all walks of life and achievement to tell their stories and share what helped them succeed. While it’s natural that there’d be some repetition, you’ll find dozens and dozens of short chapters to uplift and inspire.
I loved that in this book – but there was one thing that bears mentioning: pay attention, and you’ll start to notice that many authors here were raised in fatherless households. It truly struck me as further proof that there are no excuses not to succeed.
While I think anyone will be glad they read this book, I can definitely see it being a great gift for any young man on his way to high school, college, or post-college life. It will give him something to think about on his path to success. For him, “Reach” is a great book to have, wherever he goes.
“Letters to an Incarcerated Brother” by Hill Harper
c.2013, Gotham Books $27.50 / $29.00 Canada 400 pages
You figured you had a lock on things.
Sell or steal a little something. Hold for somebody, “borrow” a car, gain respect. Make a little money and it’d be all good, right?
Now that lock you had… has you. You’re in prison and it’s a whole new world in there, one you’re not sure you can survive. But when you read “Letters to an Incarcerated Brother” by Hill Harper, you’ll see that you have choices.
It’s no secret that there are more people in American prisons than ever before. “In less than thirty years,” says Harper,” our prison population has mushroomed.” But though statistics show that offenders are likely to return, Harper says “there is hope and there are solutions.” This book lays them out.
When Harper was contacted by an old friend who landed in “county,” he admitted to the young man that he “didn’t know what to say.” Harper believes himself to be a problem-solver. He had no answers that time, but he quickly discovered some.
First, he says, find mentorship. You can’t go it alone, so look for someone you want to make proud. Consider prison as a place to “make… tune-ups and adjustments” in your life, but remember that “you need to be prepared to change.”
Stay patient, even though it’s hard and even though you don’t always understand what’s to come. Sometimes, “it’s more important for you to simply understand you.” Learn to keep your mind free, even if your body is not.
Get as much education as you can: get your GED, look for college coursework that’s available to incarcerated students, and read. The time you spend in prison shouldn’t go to waste; use it to better your mind.
Stay in your children’s lives any way you can. Keep away from prison gangs and trouble; it’s only going to make things worse. Learn not to take things personally. Understand that real men do ask for help when they need it. Eliminate disrespectful words from your vocabulary, particularly in reference to women. Set goals. Learn to apologize and embrace change. Be a leader. And do not “micro-quit.”
In his introduction, author Hill Harper lays out several goals for this book: among others, to show the importance of education, to offer inspiration through example, and to explain how to “beat the odds and avoid returning” to jail.
Definitely, those goals are attained but that’s not all. Harper offers words of wisdom from influential contributors to support his ideas. There’s guidance here, help and resources, and he displays gentle patience, even deference, for his friend – but Harper’s nobody’s fool. He’s not afraid to call the man on his lies and half-truths, and he’s not afraid to show frustration. Such realism makes this one powerful book.
This isn’t just a reference for inmates, though. It’ll also be a great help for families, as well as a caution for boys who are headed for trouble. If that – or encouragement, sense, or inspiration – is what you need, “Letters to an Incarcerated Brother” has it locked up.
“Family Business 3: The Return of Vegas” by Carl Weber with Treasure Hernandez
$23.95 / $26.95 Canada
264 pages, plus extras
Family comes first.
That was a tenet you grew up with: nobody better come between you, sibs, and parents. Fam forever, sticking together.
But is blood really thicker than water? In the new book “Family Business 3” by Carl Weber with Treasure Hernandez, both spill just as easily.
Junior Duncan was a man in love.
He never thought he could feel this way, but Sonya made him crazy-happy. She was beautiful, smart, sexy – and though he didn’t know it at first, she was also the wife of Brother Xavier, murderous leader of the Duncan family’s biggest rivals. So on the day that Junior’s proposal to Sonya led to death threats, the Duncans circled the wagons.
Sonya tried hard to stay away from Junior, to protect him and his family, but it wasn’t possible; she knew that Xavier would kill the entire Duncan family in a second but she loved Junior too much. When he vowed to protect her, she ran away with him, hoping their escape wouldn’t lead to harm (or worse!) for everyone they loved.
Brother X was insane with jealousy and anger. If he couldn’t have Sonya, then nobody could, and he’d start looking for her by doing as much damage as he could to Junior Duncan’s family. But first, he had to break out of prison and then he had to try to broker a deal with Bernie Goldman and his men.
Gathering warriors was important now. What Junior did with X’s wife meant war.
Paris Duncan had always been Daddy’s Girl. Patriarch LC had taught his baby girl how to shoot, fight, and kill, and now Paris was one of the Duncan Family’s best soldiers. She’d even assassinated the man she loved because it needed doing. But it practically killed Paris when LC was shot in the chest by someone he knew.
It was widely known on the streets that nobody messed with Vegas Duncan. Fresh out of prison, Vegas was ready to take his usual position of security in the Duncan Family but the growing war with Brother X… it concerned him. There could be a lot of bloodshed with this kind of street-fighting. Vegas’ mentor offered to help quiet troubled waters, but would Minister Farah’s intercession be enough?
Action, sex, drugs, and violence – this book has all that packed between its covers. It’s gangsta gone gang-busters. And it’s kind of ho-hum.
In “The Family Business 3,” the women are beautiful, scantily-clad, and oversexed. The men are tall, handsome sure-shots, and oversexed. There’s the usual gay brother who crushes on a thug, violent twins, baby-daddy drama, a “dirty cop” on the dole, and ethnic mafias everywhere.
Yes, author Carl Weber (with Treasure Hernandez) includes just what you’d expect in a book like this. And yes, it’s tired.
Having said that, though, if you’ve read the first two “Family Business” novels, you’ll undoubtedly want to know what happens next. You’re probably wondering now, so go ahead. Put “Family Business 3” on your shelf. But I wouldn’t be grabbing it first…
“Black Broadway: African Americans on the Great White Way” by Stewart F. Lane
c.2015, Square One Publishers
$39.95 / $49.95 Canada
A remote control and five hundred channels.
That’s what you’ve got for entertainment, and there’s still nothing on TV. That doesn’t keep you from looking, though, and wishing for something different.
Finding entertainment shouldn’t be such a big production – but in decades past, that’s exactly what it took for African Americans, in more ways than one. In the new book “Black Broadway” by Stewart F. Lane, you’ll find out why.
When William Alexander Brown decided to retire, he knew where he’d do it: in the two-story home he’d purchased in lower Manhattan. It was 1821 and Brown, a free black man, knew that there were few places for black actors to perform for black audiences, and he planned to allow performances there.
The popularity of those performances spurred Brown and a friend to “go a step further” with a 300-seat establishment they named the African Grove Theatre. It, too, was successful, until Brown was forced out of business by a local white theatre owner who feared competition.
Not long after the African Grove Theatre was closed, minstrel shows began attracting crowds of both races. Many shows featured white and black entertainers in burnt-cork blackface, as well as comedy sketches and dancing – including many skits satirizing black life and culture.
“It’s not clear,” says Lane, “why the African Americans of the era turned out to see” those shows – but they did, perhaps to laugh “at the absurdity of the caricatures…”
By the late 1800s, vaudeville and burlesque had become popular, and that added increasing diversity to shows. Black entertainers were often included on-stage, and entire productions were created with black troupes, for black audiences. White people, of course, were welcome and did attend; one theatre owner even gave them their own section… in the back of the house.
Throughout the years, African Americans – both performers and audience members – made strides, but slowly and with help from the NAACP and the Harlem Renaissance. By the 1930s, Broadway shows included racial issues; by the 1940s, interracial marriage was a common theme. In the 1950s, audiences enjoyed performances dealing with poverty and racism – but it wasn’t until well past the Civil Rights years that black faces became a non-issue on the Great White Way.
Loaded with pictures, playbill reproductions, advertisements, and drawings, “Black Broadway” is a theatre-goer’s delight.
But I was equally happy to see that there’s plenty for the historian, too: in addition to a rich narrative on equality for African Americans on Broadway (and off), author Stewart F. Lane includes a running timeline of national and world history to put the main body of this book into perspective. We’re also treated to dozens of short-but-comprehensive profiles of influential performers and people who, though many haven’t graced a stage in decades, are still familiar to followers of theatre, jazz, dance, and music.
With all that’s inside this book, give yourself time to browse, read awhile, then browse again and enjoy. “Black Broadway” is perfect for fans of stage and screen and, of course, when there’s nothing on TV.
“The Rejected Stone” by Reverend Al Sharpton
Cash Money Content 2013
$22.00 / $26.00 Canada
By Terri S. The Bookworm Sez
The directions didn’t make any sense.
They came with diagrams, but that didn’t help. Online information was no better, you were making a mess of things, and about ready to scream. You needed clarification. You needed simple answers. You wanted someone to show you what to do.
You needed a leader. So why can’t it be you? In the new book “The Rejected Stone” by Reverend Al Sharpton, you’ll see how it could happen.
Every once in awhile – especially when he’s somewhere unexpected – Reverend Al Sharpton looks around, surprised and pleased. He’s been working for social justice and civil rights since he was nine years old, and there are many things he never thought he’d see in his lifetime.
He admits that he’s come a long way since his Tawana Brawley days. He’s lost weight and gained insight, changed his outlook and his mind on issues. He’s become a leader because the Black community needs more of those.
Great leaders, he says, don’t become leaders by accident. They know where they’re going and they know how they’re going to get there. They don’t let their past deter them; they don’t blame their childhood or neighborhood for their shortcomings. They understand that successful African Americans became successful because of community, not family. They listen to the giants of history; they have mentors and they mentor.
Leaders are true to themselves, but they understand that they must be “different, better, more” than those around them. They know their own strengths and don’t pretend to be something they‘re not. They’ve defined themselves, they ask for what they need, and they aren’t afraid to “be big.”
Successful leaders, he says, are all-encompassing. If you are against injustice, then you must be against all injustice. It’s “hypocrisy” to pick and choose.
To be a leader, you must focus and commit to a cause. You must understand that religion isn’t something you merely preach, it’s what you practice. And, to be a leader, you must know when it’s time to quit.
In all that author Reverend Al Sharpton has done in his life, considering the people he’s known (Michael Jackson and James Brown, for example, both of whom he writes about at length), and the issues that have made him front-page news, who would’ve expected wide-eyed amazement at his current life? Yes, that’s what you’ll see in the first chapter of “The Rejected Stone,” and it’s good.
From his roots in Brooklyn to his current activism, Sharpton weaves his own experiences in with advice on becoming a leader, reaching for one’s “blessings,” and being an agent for justice. Readers may be pleasantly surprised to see humility here, too; Sharpton occasionally writes with what seems like hindsight tinged with regret, which truly adds to the magnetism of his words.
I liked that; I liked the lighter, no-nonsense tone of this helpful, easy-to-read book; and I think if you know someone with potential – teen or adult – it’s what they need: “The Rejected Stone” could be a push in the right direction.
“Nine Years Under” by Sheri Booker
Gotham Books (2013)
$26.00 / $27.50 Canada
Review by Terri S.
Sitting around all summer would’ve been so wrong.
And that’s why you found a job that year between classes. No more parental hand-outs, no more wearing clothes your mom bought you, no more borrowing the car. With your own job, you had your own money to buy your own things, maybe help out at home, or sock some away. Finding work, yep, was the right thing to do.
For then-15-year-old Sheri Booker, the savings from her very unique job went towards college. In her new memoir, “Nine Years Under,” she explains why it was a job she’d been dying to get.
Fifteen-year-old Sheri Booker felt “ignored by God.”
She didn’t realize that “hospice care was the beginning of the end,” so when her Great-Great-Aunt Mary died of cancer, Booker was surprised – and lost. Growing up in Northeast Baltimore, she had few heroes. Aunt Mary was one of them, but Booker didn’t feel like she had “permission to mourn.”
She didn’t feel like going to church, either, but her parents insisted. It was there that Booker ran into one of the church’s deacons, Mr. Albert Wylie, who also owned one of Baltimore’s many African-American funeral homes.
He didn’t ask her how she was handling her loss. Instead, he offered her a job.
For four hours a night, a few nights a week, Booker answered the phones and the door at Albert P. Wylie Funeral Home. She thought it might be weird, but it wasn’t – it was interesting, and she did her work well. Soon, she was assisting with viewings and she learned her first lesson: never let clients see you cry.
But that was difficult. Witnessing the grief of families who lost someone elderly was hard enough. Wylie Funeral Home also did a brisk business with the city’s poor, the gang-bangers and drug addicts.
Still, it was a job Booker enjoyed and soon, she started doing errands for Mr. Wylie. Then she did paperwork, filing, and bookwork. Eventually, she dressed bodies and assisted as much as she legally could. She became an honorary member of the Wylie family for nine happy years, but in work – as in life – all good things must come to an end…
Looking for something with a great plot? Something different, delightful, but a little dark? Then you need “Nine Years Under.”
With knowledge, a willingness to disclose, and a good amount of humor, author Sheri Booker not only shares the story of her tenure as a funeral home assistant and the duties she assumed, she also gives readers a sense of what goes on behind closed doors there. She weaves this information – some of which is graphic – in with observations on mourners, neighbors, and the industry as a whole. I loved that Booker finds a certain amount of comedy in death and preparing for its rituals, and her musings on funerals are priceless.
This is a wonderful, wonderful book that sounds squirmy, yet is anything but. So grab “Nine Years Under” – because if you think you’ll like it, you’re dead right.
Reviewed by Terri S.
“The Color Complex: The Politics of Skin Color in a New Millennium” by Kathy Russell-Cole, Midge Wilson, and Ronald E. Hall
c.1992, 2013, Anchor
$16.00 / $19.00 Canada
This month, you’ve decided you need a whole new look.
Your hair and wardrobe are out of date, so you’re getting a cut-and-style and a fresh wardrobe, shoes and all. You’ve got an appointment for a mani-pedi, a dermatologist, dentist, and – no more glasses! – you’re getting some of those colored contacts.
But there’s one thing you can’t alter. And in the newly updated book “The Color Complex” by Kathy Russel-Cole, Midge Wilson, and Ronald E. Hall, you’ll see how much it still matters.
The more things change, the more they remain the same…
In the last two decades, America has seen a revolution when it comes to issues of race. The generation that was born and has grown up in that time is “much more racially diverse than any other before it…” Economic powerhouses in India , China and Brazil have emerged, mixed-race relationships barely make us blink, even the government has added multiracial categories on census forms.
There’s been a lot of change, but “colorism” – a word referring to prejudices surrounding skin-color differences, particularly within the African American community – remains. What’s worse, it’s infiltrated popular culture with a subtler, seemingly-nastier effect on its victims.
Though “… skin color has maintained an intimate relationship with class” since “the earliest times,” the issue of colorism has its American roots in the early 1500s when “mulatto” offspring of White men and Black women gained power through education and social bridging between Black and White populations. Later, preference was shown for lighter-skinned individuals as “house slaves,” who largely disparaged darker-skinned field workers.
Today, several decades after discrimination based on color was made illegal, colorism still exists. Some blame it on music videos and Black songwriters. Others accuse fashion and movies. The authors also point at politics and world policy, yet they say that there are things you can do to “lessen colorism’s pernicious effects.”
Contact television networks if you notice a lack of Black journalists or actors. Let editors know that you won’t purchase their magazines until they stop Photoshopping pictures of models of color. Use the power of social media to further your cause, state your opinions, and gather support.
These days, it seems that we like to pretend we live in an enlightened world that’s on its way to being “color-blind.” We have a Black president, after all, and today’s youth are more accepting of racial differences. Some think we’ve gotten past skin color, but reading “The Color Complex” shows otherwise.
With great dismay and a surprising amount of quietly cynical humor, authors Kathy Russell-Cole, Midge Wilson, and Ronald E. Hall re-examine the divisiveness of colorism today, in contrast to what it was two decades ago. New, eye-opening research and fresh information show readers that though there are gains in some areas, colorism is far from a dead issue; in fact, with the rise of globalism, it’s actually spread.
This is a fascinating, albeit quite uncomfortable book that I recommend for audiences both Black and White. Newly updated, “The Color Complex” deserves a whole new look.
Reviewed by Terri S.
“Decadence” by Eric Jerome Dickey
$25.95 / $28.50 Canada
You’ll try anything once.
You’re daring when it comes to a new restaurant, new clubs, new fashion, pretty much anything. Something different for your plate? Bring it on. An activity you’ve never done before? You head the line. New technology? They call you First-Adopter.
Being open to new adventures keeps life fresh and exciting. And, as you’ll see in the new novel “Decadence” by Eric Jerome Dickey, embracing new experiences can also fulfill fantasies.
Nia Simone Bijou was feeling restless.
It had been six weeks since she last saw her lover, Prada, and though their weekend together left her sated, it wasn’t for long. She had hoped that her friendship with the soldier, Bret, would turn into a repeat of their one-night stand, but friendship was all he seemed interested in. And so, filled with desire, Nia Simone applied for membership to Decadence, a very exclusive and private swinger’s club four hours away from her Smyrna townhouse.
Decadence fees were astonishing, the medical process was thorough, and the interview was long and deeply personal, but Nia Simone had nothing to hide. She was used to being naked in front of others and she wasn’t afraid to describe her fantasies. She wanted new experiences, club rules were simple, and very little was off-limits.
On her first visit, she turned from Watcher to Doer. Decadence was a lover’s playground and she wished she could bring Prada with her, though she knew he’d never share her. And since monogamy was boring, sharing was what Nia Simone really desired.
But while Decadence was everything she needed it to be, it wasn’t as anonymous as she’d hoped.
Years before, when Nia Simone was in college, her heart was broken by her first love, a man who cheated on her with her pupil. It was still a fist to her gut when she thought about him – so seeing him in the club, watching him please that woman, brought white-hot anger to Nia Simone, and a need for sexual revenge.
Looking for a different Shade of Gray? You might find it here, so bring your oven mitts.
Yes, indeed, “Decadence” is hot with a capital “H.” It fairly blisters with explicitness – but it’s also relentless. Author Eric Jerome Dickey starts the action literally on the fourth word of this novel and he barely lets up until the end of the book. Alas, that relentlessness sometimes made me lose interest, which is when I started noticing a handful of words that are overused to the point of silliness, and a main character that speaks in tedious, faux-poetic metaphors.
To the good, though, there’s a thin plot in this book – which is better than some I’ve read in Dickey’s erotica collection. But really, let’s be honest: the plot isn’t why you’d want this book in the first place.
In case you didn’t catch on, this book is for adults only and shouldn’t even be kept in the same room with kids. If you’ve got that covered, then go ahead and give “Decadence” a try.
“Divine Intervention” by Lutishia Lovely
$15.00 / $16.95 Canada
Reviewed by Terri S.
You’re a person who knows what she wants.
You can make up your mind in a snap, decisively sizing up the situation, weighing the options in your head. You rarely regret the solution you choose. You know what you want – and you get it.
That goes for relationships, too, but in the new book “Divine Intervention” by Lutishia Lovely, a whole church full of people can’t seem to settle on love.
Princess Brook was about to take a big step. And it would start down a silk-covered aisle, praise God.
Marrying Rafael Stevens was something she’d planned for so long. They grew up together and Princess knew Rafael loved her. He was a good man with an excellent future. But Princess couldn’t stop thinking that she was making a mistake. She couldn’t stop thinking of her ex, Kelvin.
As pastor of Mount Zion Progressive Baptist Church, King Brook was a beacon of strength, both to his church and to his wife, Tai. Sure, the Brooks had had trouble in their marriage, but they worked their way through that and now had a good, solid relationship.
More or less.
The Reverend Doctor Pastor Bishop Overseer Mister Stanley Obadiah Meshach Brook Jr. spent fifty years with his wife, Mama Max, and forty years with his mistress, Dorothea. Sadly for both women, the years were spent at the same time. So when Obadiah left Kansas City to move in with Dorothea in Dallas, Mama Max figured it was time to move on. She found herself a man-friend and started going out a little – which made Obadiah jealous. His mistress was his mistress but Mama Max was his wife and God willing, she’d stay that way.
Vivian and Derrick Montgomery had been in love their entire adult lives. Their marriage had withstood old flames, new children, and a son Derrick didn’t know he had until the boy was a man. Yes, everyone at Mount Zion Progressive Baptist Church wanted a marriage just like the Montgomery’s.
But could that marriage hold up against the biggest crisis of all?
“Divine Intervention” started out better than I thought it would. I actually liked the characters a lot, and I was glad to be pulled into their world.
But as I kept reading, I started getting tired. Tired of infidelity, tired of bedroom scenes that all felt the same. And while I suppose this is the formula for these kinds of books, I had to wonder, about halfway through, if any of these characters could manage to keep their pants on.
Author Lutishia Lovely creates a wonderful Church community. She made me chuckle at some of the things that happened and things her characters said. For sure, Lovely tells a good story. Too bad it’s mired in too much two-timing.
“Divine Intervention” is by no means a terrible novel. No, it has its moments but just know what you’re getting when you get it. There’s great character development here, so if you don’t mind an unlikely plot, then this might be a book you’ll want.