FEATURE

Brother Author: Writings from the African American Male Summer Literacy Institute

By Dr. Alfred W. Tatum
Richard Wright

Richard Wright, 1908 - 1960. Author of NATIVE SON and BLACK BOY.

The United States has become a nation in which too many young people surrender their life chances before they get to know their life choices. This is particularly true for young black males who live in communities of turmoil. They are struggling to negotiate their existence amidst an awful national narrative that traps them within the limiting confines of blackness and maleness. Without a full recognition of their humanity, outsiders begin to look on as silent bystanders who have lost faith in the intellectual and creative prowess of these young males. Taking a cue from the outsiders, many black males have learned to become accomplices to their own failure.

Literacy advocates are needed to interrupt the negative slide that many of these young males are experiencing. More importantly, these young males need the literacy tools, both reading and writing, as pillars of protection. Unfortunately, far too many have had their relationships with texts severed. They are left destitute of words and ideas to protect themselves and future generations of black males. It is important to strengthen their relationship with texts as early markers of manhood. This why I created the African American Adolescent Male Summer Literacy Institute several years ago with the aim of nurturing the next generation of writers. Affectionately, they were called, Brother Authors.

Ralph Ellison

Ralph Ellison, 1914 - 1994. Author of INVISIBLE MAN and JUNETEENTH (posthumously).

These young males were given the charge to write prudently and unapologetically, not only for themselves, but for future generations. They were asked to become part of a storied lineage of black writers that included David Walker, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Ellis Cose and W.E. B. Dubois to name a few. Black writers, past and present, have used their pens to define themselves, engage others, nurture resilience and build capacity. They wrote to create a new national imagination by putting their voice and vision on record. In short, they began to write new beginnings. They became the architects of their generation as they began to read and write for their lives.

This generation needs its own architects who will embrace texts and pen poems, short stories, children stories and novels. Below is just a sampling of what young black males will produce if they are afforded the opportunity. The power that resides in their words and the backdrops to their writings are transformative. These young writers became the myth-busters that this nation needs. In some instances, they remind us that their lives are on the line. They simply want to know who will tow the line with them. Listening to their voices is our clarion call.

Dr. Alfred W. Tatum is Director of the Reading Clinic at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he also received his Ph.D. Dr. Tatum’s research focuses on adolescent literacy, including literacy development of African American males. He founded the African American Adolescent Male Summer Literacy Institute.

My Comfort Zone
by Daylin Miller, Brother Author #13

I used to have a comfort zone where I knew I wouldn’t fail.
The same four walls and busywork was more like jail.
I longed so much to do the things I’d never done before,
But stayed inside my comfort zone and paced the same old floor.
I said it didn’t matter that I wasn’t doing much.
I said I didn’t care for things like commission checks and such.
I claimed to be so busy with the things inside the zone,
But deep inside I longed for something special of my own.
I couldn’t let my life go by just watching others win.
I held my breath; I stepped outside and let the change begin.
I took a step and with new strength I’d never felt before,
I kissed my comfort zone goodbye and closed and locked the door.

If you’re in a comfort zone, afraid to venture out,
Remember that all winners were at one time filled with doubt.
A step or two and words of praise can make your dreams come true.
Reach for your future with a smile; success is there for you.

4The Bastards
by Preston Davis

Young Man, you are just like your father.
The resemblance is uncanny.
You have the same face, your bodies have the same shape and you walk as if you took your first step from the same place!
Your voice has the same pitch, you two have the same hobbies and you adorn the same attire.
Well, I’ll be Damned if you’re not him.

Good Sir, I am not just like my father.
We look and sound the same, the resemblance stops there.
I walk with a purpose — he walks to move his feet.
I like art and music and he prefers sports.
I dress for success, and well, he dresses so that he isn’t naked.
Good Sir, with all due respect
You’ll Be Damned
Because I am Not my father, nor would I ever want to be.

(no title)
by Marcus Artwell, Brother Author #6

Has the mighty river known as America, flowing for hope, justice and freedom met a drought? Why are people without homes, jobs, money and basic necessities such as food? Why are my questions in a queue line along with the aforementioned others? If I am asking too many questions tell me so, I will put my answer on your waiting list.

Seeds
by Aaron Knight, Brother Author #9

Born with planting hands
You decided to plant your Seeds
Not thinking about the future
Unprotected like a white man in the slums
You penetrated her with your stray bullets
You filled her temple with your Seeds
Seeds that you left unattended
Seeds that you never saw grow
Seeds…
Years later a seed that should have been a rose
Is now a weed
Planted in the earth surface ready to die or kill
You weren’t there to care for it
You weren’t there to fill its frontal lobe
With knowledge or moral conscience

The never ending cycle of planters
Planting their
 Seeds…

Never Again
by Nile Lansana, Brother Author #11

Never Again
Will we stand and relax
While our brother’s life
Is being hooked on a string.

Never Again
Will we rest in bed
While our children in Africa
Suffer from not being fed.

Never Again
Shall we embark on our journey
With more failure than forgiveness
And the act of being inconsiderate than affectionate
The darkness of obnoxious behavior
Unacceptable aromas
Sour tastes
Life is a gentle cup
Hard work and dedication will fill our world up.

Trial of the Century
by Marcus Artwell, Brother Author #6

Everyone returns after a court recess of an hour; this to Ms.
Anderson should have felt like a lifetime, but instead is more of
a nuisance that prolonged a case that was beyond her. She sat
in the defendant’s seat in a striped, collared blouse with a face
so blank of any emotion that rendered that the jury’s verdict had
already been established in her favor. The Judge demands
order with a loud bang of his gavel, then he proclaims “the state
of Florida vs. Ms. Anderson is back from recess, please begin
your closing arguments”. Ms. Anderson’s attorney boastfully
walks up to the stand and defends her against the accusations
of the state. Ms. Anderson begins to meander in thought while
her attorney and the state of Florida exchange words of false
truth and disbelief. Her emotionless face begins to resemble
that of a child that has done wrong as the state attorney
general exclaims “the truth and Ms. Anderson are strangers, no
one else could have done this”.

NOW YOU’RE THE DEVIL’S SLAVE
by Cahjeem Williams, Brother Author #8

Do you wanna know how the DEVIL play…
with your mind
“I don’t know I’ll only try it one time‘’
It starts with tobacco
Then it’s cocaine
listen up THIS STUFF is killing your brain
Now look at you mamma dun kick you out
“I don’t care she was a pain in the drought”
HAAAHHHA YOU ON THE STREET BEGGING FOR CHAINS
Just to buy some more cocaine
I tried god don’t like you no more
NOW you’re the devils new TOY

Sleep where you lay
Cause in a few minutes
You’re gonna burn away

Kinship Response, Brandon Wilson:
Listen
I’m feeling your advice
Want the truth?
Since reading
I’ve already lit up twice.
No description
I can write,
Can depict
My addiction
And Moms is always asking
‘Bout that smell In the kitchen
She’s trippin’
And yes I do beg for chains
Cause in my life there’s more to lose,
And less to gain
Save your laughs
Save your talk
I don’t need it
It’s not fair to me
I AM the Devil’s toy
But Hell,
At least he takes care of me.

Will I Ever Succeed ? reaction to Regret
by Daylin Miller, Brother Author #13

Will I ever Succeed, My mom asked me.
I replied of course!
Will I Ever Succeed? Indeed!
I’m expected to follow your expectations but they’re not mines.
Since I’m not following your expectations you say I killed my
future.
Really I haven’t been allowed to have a mind of my own.
So what future is there really for me?
People see something in me that I don’t see.
I wonder, what it could be?

(no title)
by Brandon Wilson, Brother Author #14

Every rejection letter
a BULLET hole
to an uninsured
well educated
BLACK man
with preexisting conditions.
Never skimmed a reading or
skipped a problem
or missed a meeting
but the ineloquent
BEATING
of that cardiac muscle
since age zero
the unyielding reign check
of an unstoppable drive.
No legacy
No inheritance
No trust fund
No real parents
just a DRIVE–
that’s never enough.

Orchestra
by Nile Lansana Brother Author #11

Kayla’s wavy hair was his baton. Her soft lips were his flute. Her breasts were his drums. Her cheeks were his cymbals. Marlon was the conductor. His rhythms were unheard of by his peers. He was a master at his craft. And yet, his most magical piece was being done on his most prized possession.

“Hey, what do you want to do tonight, Marlon?” Kayla asked.

“I want you to go see a concert.” Marlon replied.

“Ok. Well, who do you want to go see?”

“I wrote a song for you, but we’ll have to go to my house, if you want to hear it.”

“Well then, what are we waitin’ for baby? Let’s go!”

The empty house was a perfect audience for Marlon’s concerto. As he started the concert, Kayla was completely helpless. She had no idea of Marlon’s intentions. Only 14 years old, she was aspiring to get into a good high school. Marlon at first was a tutor to Kayla, then became a friend and is now a boyfriend. Little did she know she is now #354,671.

“Get off of me, you perv!” Kayla shouted.

Marlon smacked the cymbals and the audience cheered. He played the flute flawlessly. His epic crescendos rose as white fluid began to spill. Finally, the song came to an end.

“Who are you?” Kayla squeaked.

“Did you like my orchestra?”

  • zack

    I like this article…however I am a Black male that works with ten Black males who absolutely abhor reading for lack of relevance to their immediate situation. Reading and writing is a means to embarrass themselves in front of the class.

    What strategies would anyone suggest to help motivate these struggling Black men far removed from a summer reading institute?

    Each one is reading at least two grades below grade level.

    I mean no disrespect but we have to find ways to motivate students in the schools they attend. Any help would appreciated.

  • AWT

    Please consider reading Teaching Reading to Black Adolescent Males that takes you inside the classroom.

  • e hart

    As an educator I found that our boys did not see the relevance of the fiction that was usually presented in classrooms. They also didn’t want to right about boring topics. One student stated that fiction would not help him in the issues of everyday life. I readjusted the subjects to those things that interested them (i.e money, machines, war, history, debate, architecture, sports, technology, and sexuality) and the class participation changed drastically. I also included kinesthetic activities that allowed for building things, talking and moving. Research about gender brain differences and learning styles will help you. Good luck.

  • Karen E. Dabney

    “This generation needs its own architects who will embrace texts and pen poems, short stories, children stories and novels.”

    Promote Literacy! Keep a Mind Lit!

  • Yvonne

    I am looking to find the name of the author mentioned in this documentary that wrote books for middle school aged children. The gentleman was featured because he didn’t finish traditional school, but duely noted became an affluent author.
    His stories are about “us”, according to the show.
    Please reply, thanks.

  • Tamika Thompson

    Thanks for your inquiry, Yvonne. The author’s name is Walter Dean Myers.

    All the best,

    -”Tavis Smiley” staff

Last modified: March 26, 2014 at 4:21 pm
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