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Black Boy



 

Have you ever read a book, placed it on your shelf, allowed it to collect dust, and picked it up again years later? You’re a reader, so I assume yes. Did you see anything different in the vocabulary, concepts, or storyline during the second read?


Twenty years after my first read of Richard Wright’s novel, Black Boy, I again picked up this classic text. Life abroad experiences enabled me to hear and visualize the story with different eyes and ears. His depictions took me home without the need to pay expensive airfares.


Rereading a book and seeing something you didn't recognize before is a sign of growth or evidence of previous distractions.

I forgot Richard Wright lived in Chicago. Chapter 15 starts with, “My first glimpse of the flat black stretches of Chicago depressed and dismayed me, mocked all my fantasies." His first experiences in a northern city did not meet his southern expectations.


Next, Wright describes the homes as "built of black slabs of black coal wreathed in palls of gray smoke." These words conjured Chicago bungalows and fireplaces during the winter.


Reading can take you to a different world and time without leaving your seat.


Last week, a friend asked me about growing up in Chicago and the ideas expressed in my first book. I recently gave him a copy of Critical Race and Education for Black Males: When Pretty Boys Become Men. He wanted to know if anything had shifted regarding my viewpoints.


I replied, "Yes, in many ways, my writing style and perspectives have changed since 2018."


I started the book when I lived in Chicago. The death of Michael Brown and a fear that I might meet a similar fate to other Black boys and men pushed me to write every day. In each chapter, I share stories from my educational experiences to explain how race can influence Black boys in schools.


Although I failed, I tried to relay poignant perspectives through snapshots of my life like Richard Wright in his autobiographical novel Black Boy.


I know you think that I shouldn’t compare myself to others. You're right.


Instead of wasting energy comparing ourselves to writers, colleagues, friends, and others with admirable skills, we must engage in introspection to improve.

As my wife said today, "Our past selves made the best decisions with what we had available. So stay in the present and move forward."


You must love the blessing of having a beautiful, insightful woman in your life. I digress, but follow me in this post to see how I tie it together.


This semester, I am co-teaching the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in Medical Education course. It's available to faculty members and post-doctoral teaching fellows through the College of Graduate Studies. During last week's class, I experimented with a PechaKucha presentation format to discuss how critical race theory influenced my teaching and learning experiences.


PechaKucha is a Japanese pedagogical strategy involving storytelling, photos, and a slide show on a twenty-second timer. The presenter has twenty seconds per slide to explain a topic or tell a story. Practice is essential to identifying the best pictures and nailing the timing.


As part of the introduction, I shared how the conversation mentioned above with a friend influenced the selection of images on each slide. In chapter two of my first book, I describe how a trip to Florida in the fourth grade shaped my identity as a Black boy from Chicago. An innocent crush pushed race and gender-based guilt into my perspectives about life in America.


The girl who wore a pink bikini in Florida rejected me. She called me nice but "colored." Her unhealthy perceptions of Black boys were symptomatic of an ideological pandemic.


Such ideas shape race practices that persist today.

After class, I contemplated the relevance of my story and others like Richard Wright. Black boys in Chicago continue to encounter limited opportunities. Individual and systemic racism influences employment opportunities, educational options, police interactions, and healthcare resources.


We must continue to do the work. Our evolution into the best version of ourselves is vital. The vision to create a better world for little Black boys, girls, children, and adults that identify along the gender and racial spectrum is necessary.


Let's commit to one daily act of justice, love, or compassion. How we define an action is up to us. Yes, it's hard, but consider our contributions critical to influencing perspectives, policies, and politics.


Be willing to collaborate and learn from a variety of sources. Sometimes, our opportunities for creating measurable changes exist in new communities and the creases of old texts.


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Conversing this week with an American scholar born and educated in a village in Africa opened my eyes to the stark differences between his background and mine. His village was build from the common grasses of the fields, the beds from strips of soft wood laced together, where only the teacher had a chair. The cost of living was zero. And the people were poor but happy and supportive of each other. The sense of family was all important. There were no outsiders. Skin color was not an issue. But in Amerca we are often marked by our pigments. But the essence of personhood is the same. This is a lesson that must be taught. It is not somethi…

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Meeting people from different backgrounds can teach you a lot about yourself. It's interesting how that happens. Where in Africa was the scholar from?


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