Book Review: Men We Cherish
Book Reviewed by Thumper
African-American Women Praise The Men In Their Lives, Edited by Brooke Stephens is an anthology. A book filled with laughter, heartache, inspiration, comfort, heart-mending and at times out right flattery. Told by African-American women from various perspectives, age and background, this book sings (I mean Aretha Franklin SINGS) the praises of men that provided shelter, laughter, and wisdom packaged in love and total acceptance in their lives. I'm glad I heard this symphony. I saw the Black men (and in one case my grandmother) that meant a great deal in my life through out this book. Verifying the honest and emotional truth to the stories. The book opens with a love letter, "A Tough Love Letter To My Battle-Scarred Brothers" by Donna Britt. Straight forward in it's honest, loving in it's understanding, and lustful in it's sensuality, the letter covers the gambit of how African-American men are seen through the eyes of an African-American woman. I was moved. I was flattered. I bashfully blushed. Hell, I felt like a MAN. A NATURAL BLACK MAN! The love letter sets the tone for the rest of the book in it's ability to get to the heart of the matter. A wonderful introduction. All of the stories rung the bell of understanding and caused laughter from its recognition and the humor of the life we live as African-Americans. Of course, I have my favorites.
The Fathers and Grandfathers section evoked magical childhood memories of warm kitchens on cold winter days, changing out of your school clothes into your play clothes, and pitching pennies in the church basement between Sunday School and marching down the aisle in the Children's Choir.
Even though the stories are dedicated to Black men, it brought my grandmother back home. Brooke Stephens contribution is titled "Granddaddy". Stephens' grandfather is my grandmother to a tee. The wisdom, humor, the sunshine that radiated from Stephens' loving memories are perfect. I wouldn't have traded my grandmother for the world. I don't believe that Stephens would have traded her grandfather for it either.
Part 2 of the anthology focuses on brothers, uncles and other male relatives. After reading this, I swear my grandmother had a spirit instead of a human being as a son, because it seems that my Uncle Jr. was all over the place. It is readily apparent that I shared my Uncle Jr. with Victoria Cliett (A Macon Boy), Kai Jackson-Issa (Esco), and Gloria Wade-Gayles (Homecoming). It's true! My uncle was an extremely talented writer that was so interesting and grabbed my curiosity like Cliett's Uncle Van.
Talked into a myth by the family that knows about him and just as fascinating in real life, whenever my grandmother's house served as a resting place between the travels of the world. He was also a fabulous storyteller and loved laughter around him, but he was also a drug addict and could tick you off, embarrass you, and still show his vulnerability like Gloria Wade-Gayles' Uncle Prince. He was also loyal, flamboyant like Kai Jackson-Issa's Esco. I'm convinced that we are all loving the same person. Who knew that he took the phrase "getting around" literally?
Sons and Grandsons, the third portion, reminds me of one of my mother's poem about my brother and I. Parental love and wonderment. Proof of the old adage that a person can learn wisdom of life from anyone. After reading these moving stories, I was able to see how their sons became the marvelous Black men. For these authors, I proudly say, "the fruit doesn't fall too far from the tree."
Husband & Lovers yanked the covers off the romantic in me. It also revealed the concept, to me, that romantic love must have trust. Not only for the other person, but the trust of self. To have the confidence of opening your inner self to someone, the WHOLE self, and that there are Black men in which this can and does happen. I have new heros in this section. Donna Wise (His Story) is beautiful in it's simplicity. Confident and funny in its narration. I like Miss Donna. Now, I want to meet her and her husband just to see what the "real thing" looks like so I can more easily separate the wheat from the chafe. Mali Michelle Fleming (A Femme Kind Of Love) is my other hero. To have opened up in the face of love, lost, and still put the self BACK on the line. I don't have that strength. She reminded me of the lyrics from Betty Wright's "For Love Alone". Ms. Wright sang, "Even after love has wounded me and left a bad scar on my heart...I don't know...next time love comes around I just manage to reach right down into that same ol', battle-torn heart and find some more love. Because that the one thing about real love. No matter how much you give away, you'll still have some more to give. Love is just funny that way."
Friends and Mentor is the last section which show the kindness and general goodwill that meant anything from survival, (Evelyn Coleman's For Mr. Scriber, and Other black Knights in Shining Armor), to inspiration and friendship (Leslie Woodward's Ready; Jennifer Jordan's A Bouquet for Arthur P.; and Orian Hyde Weeks' A Few Good Men). Humorous at times, emotional wrenching in others, all good throughout. I wouldn't change a thing about this wonderful book. Well...maybe one thing.
The preface by editor Brooke Stephens bothered me. Actually, I was ticked. In it Stephens expresses the reason as to why she felt compelled to bring this book to life. The shortage of positive recognition of the African-American male. The "one out of four African-American male is in prison" stat is quoted a couple of times. The perceived notion that the biographies of some noted African-American men fall into the "jail to Yale" category. She states,"He is presented as having grown up in some urban ghetto, had trouble with the law and ultimately, lived the proverbial American 'up by the bootstraps' story in blackface."
The intention wouldn't bother me, except that with many of us, Black men, this notion happens to be true. Why be ashamed of it? Yes, we are unfairly presented in the media. Yes, we are "endangered". Yes, we are in trouble. BUT, I will not say that many of us that are in prison don't DESERVE to be there. I will not say differently that for anyone prison is rock bottom. "A hard head makes a soft behind", and I can think of nothing harder than rock bottom. What other time is more appropriate in turning one's life around. I'm not advocating prison. I can't ignore it's relationship to the African-American people. I can't ignore this particular monkey that is on our back. It's much too heavy and spiteful. But, it can be trained and taught to do tricks.
Stephens also states that in today's literature, the positive image of the Black male is lacking in representation. "Like most women of any color, I have my own private library of 'he-done-me-wrong' stories, but these have been counterbalanced by supportive, inspiring Black men whose influence has helped to shape my life." In the most respectful tone and delivery, I wanted to shout, "What books haven't you been reading?" Immediately, several positive Black men of literature came to mind: Rutherford Calhoun in Charles Johnson's Middle Passage; Raymond Tyler from E. Lynn Harris' Invisible Life and Just As I Am; Grant Wiggins from Ernest Gaines' A Lesson Before Dying; C.J. Floyd of Robert O. Greer's mystery series; Tony Hill for Gray Hardwicke's Cold Medina; and less not forget the ones by white authors like Alex Cross and believe it or not, Lucas Beauchamp from William Faulkner's Intruder In The Dust. These are JUST to name a few. The positive images are here, all we have to do is look.
I am not one who worries about the "image" of the African-American man. I do not care to waste a millisecond of energy or thought to devise ways to break down preconceived stereotypes. Nor am I actively or unthinkingly trying to prove my equality to a, The, more-than-a-few-less-than-a-whole-bunch of white men. If white people, in color and attitude, don't know the truth by now, I proudly submit the suggestion that a new way of testing intelligence be devised and mandatorily given as soon as possible. For the individuals that fail, lock them in a room with a Rubik cube and a Toni Morrison novel. We, as a people, are beyond the point of worrying about our "image". Our intellect have been retarded long enough. It's time to move on.
The only way that the African-American man can thrive and prosper is he must save himself. We have to define our manhood for ourselves and live up to that definition by ourselves. Yes, we are hunted by some because of our skin. Beauty that they can not possess. The burdens that are placed on our backs, lightens our spiritual load. We have a shorter walk to God. "I'm too close to heaven...I can almost see my journey's end." BUT, I'm not a seal, whale, or sea turtle. I don't want to be a picture for an Easter Seal stamp. I am a Black man. (Watching my step as I get off the soap box)
Meanwhile, back at the book review...
Men We Cherish was thoroughly enjoyed. The stories brought back so many memories, both good and some not so good. For me it was thought provoking (not that it was noticeable). The book showed love, acceptance and appreciation that some African-American women feel for their men. We are a beautiful people. Alice Walker implied that in our blood and bones, we know the secret of joy. Now, I strongly believe it.