Every day brings a new opportunity to learn, love, and grow. Failing to take advantage of these opportunities will result in regrets. Therefore, I opt never to have regrets, but instead to be a student of life.
This week my life lessons came from four black writers who I respect — blessed with the opportunity of a lifetime to interview three of them during the BLK. INK virtual book fair hosted by the Black Writers Workspace, I learned several key life lessons from Kevin Powell, Ardain Isma, and Odessa Rose. Also, as I honored the life and legacy of the late author and activist bell hooks, I immersed myself in her words and took another life lesson with me that I want to share.
Lesson #1 — Books have POWER.
During my interview with Kevin Powell, author of 14 books, journalist, activist, and filmmaker, we engaged in an honest conversation about his autobiography “The Education of Kevin Powell: A Boy’s Journey into Manhood.”
Kevin’s book is his life story of surviving poverty and crime in the streets of New Jersey. It explores how he found his way into a world of activism and community building. It also covers the exciting role he played in the launch of hip hop music and his journey to becoming the man he, his mother, and those he loved would respect. The book is honest and raw, and I connected with his story in ways that surprised me.
Although we grew up in different parts of the country, Kevin and I are products of poor/working-class communities, hard-working and no-bullshit mothers, and a soul-stirring love of books and hip-hop music.
But with all our similarities, I left the interview learning the most simplistic lesson. Kevin reminded me that books have the power to change lives.
Books changed the trajectory of both of our lives by transforming our impoverished minds, bodies, and spirits. Books changed how we saw ourselves and our surroundings. They allowed us to dream and to expand our worldviews. They opened doors and connected us to braver possibilities.
For Kevin, books like “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” ushered in his love of activism. Because of his experiences, his writings and literary accomplishments secure his place in history as a modern-day griot, telling life stories during the rise of hip-hop and in the trenches of police brutality, racism, and sexism post-civil rights movement.
My time with him was short but meaningful. I am a better person because of our encounter, and now I’m convinced, more than ever, that black writers must keep writing.
Lesson #2 — The Black Experience IS the Human Experience.
My interview with writer, college professor, and Haitian historian Ardain Isma revigorated my interest in embracing the black experience from the African diaspora to now.
As we discussed Ardain’s journey from Haiti to America at the age of 17, he reveals the heartbreak he felt leaving his mother behind and his renewed focus on education and writing in his new homeland. As a result of his love of writing, Ardain penned two books seeded in his love of Haiti and his commitment to Black empowerment. He also hosts a YouTube interview series where authors have a platform to talk about their work, and he’s the Editor-In-Chief of CSMS magazine.
Ardain introduced me to ‘The Equality of the Human Races’ by Author Anténor Firmin, a pioneering work of early anthropology written in French by a Haitian who is one of anthropology’s first scholars of African descent. Firmin published the book in Paris in 1885, twenty years after the ‘Father of Racism,’ Count Arthur de Gobineau, published “The Inequality of Human Races.” De Gobineau’s racist tome was translated into several languages and influenced Nazi ideology. But, decades ahead of his time, Firmin’s work proved that the human races are equal.
I felt a sense of pride learning from Ardain, his love of Haiti, and his commitment to sharing the prolific life story of great minds like Firmin. Racism was purposely embedded into the foundation of nation-building. Books like De Gobineau’s helped infuse systemic discrimination and inequality in every facet of life. I left this conversation understanding that our country will never embrace unity and equality until we appreciate the black experience.
Lesson #3 — Write what you LOVE!
My final interview led me to embrace the work of a black, heterosexual, female writer who took a chance to write a fictional story about a black, gay, female character in a contemporary novel that became a featured movie.
Until our interview, I’d never met Odessa Rose, the author of “Water in a Broken Glass,” but I’d followed her work on social media. Nothing prepared me for her humble demeanor, love of words, and Baltimorean pride.
Odessa wrote “Water in a Broken Glass,” a novel about a sculptor who struggles with her sexuality and self-image. The storyline was conceived after Odessa’s chance encounter with a friend who was concerned about coming out to her for fear of how she would respond. Hopeful to help others in similar situations, Odessa’s story is a good lesson for people who are either dealing with coming out to friends and family or are having a hard time accepting the sexuality of someone they love.
Like so many writers, Odessa told the story that kept her up at night. She listened as the character developed within her spirit, and she let the story drive her to write a book that was so convincing that a filmmaker asked, and ultimately earned, the rights to turn it into a movie.
Our discussion clarified that if I’m going to be a writer, I must write! Sometimes the work will let me know it’s ready to be delivered to the world. Sometimes readers will beckon for my stories, and I must trust that the world is prepared for my greatness. Nevertheless, great writers WRITE! Odessa’s story proved this to me.
Check out “Water in a Broken Glass” on Amazon Prime or Apple TV.
Lesson #4 — Love is EVERYTHING!
This week we lost another great author, activist, and leader. bell hooks parted this life, but she did not part our hearts. Instead, she gave us the most exceptional understanding of love, forgiveness, and unity. Her life story embodies the lessons I hope to live forever. I embrace her greatness and pray it will sustain me for years to come:
The moment we choose to love we begin to move against domination, against oppression. The moment we choose to love we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others.
— bell hooks, Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations, 1994
To Kevin, Ardain, Odessa and bell hooks, thank you!