The great American writer, poet and philosopher, Maya Angelou, said “there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” Her quote resonates deeply with me today on the official release of my book, I Too Am America: On Loving & Leading Black Men & Boys, co-authored with my long-time good friend and collaborator, Nick Chiles. The writing and publishing process has been an excavation of the soul and a healing balm that comes with finally bearing my untold story and birthing this book I believe I was destined to deliver to the world.
I Too Am America is my story – a Black baby boy born in 1962 in New York City during the Civil Rights Movement who comes of age and grips with the paradox of promise and peril that most Black boys and men in America grapple with. But, the book is also the story of two talented young men, Jamare Winston from Detroit and Romero Wesson from Oakland, who embody all that we want our boys to be while illuminating the many uncertainties they face. I Too Am America is equal parts memoir, historical account of the work of the Campaign for Black Male Achievement (CBMA) and a manifesto for a hopeful path forward – comprising the vision and voices from a collection of vibrant social justice leaders.
When the necessary delays, setbacks and recalibrations over the past year led to the ironic official release date of January 6th I acknowledged that all is in Divine Order. This book is offered as a protest against America’s continued racism, anti-Blackness and systemic oppression with a unique lens of the impact on Black men and boys. “I Too Am America, at its very essence is all about love,” writes Susan L. Taylor in the book’s foreword.
The book’s title is borrowed from the iconic Harlem Renaissance poet and writer, Langston Hughes’ 1926 poem I, Too, who in just 26 words almost a century ago poetically and prophetically depicted the paradox of promise and peril for Black people in America. Just as Langston was compelled to proclaim, I, too, am America.
Sadly, and yes shamefully, the “tomorrow” Hughes foretells has yet to become “today” because as today’s insurrection one-year anniversary reminds us, there are significant segments of the American population incapable of feeling the shame he poetically predicts they will feel because of a history of systemic racism and brutal oppression.
In many respects we are all subject to reverberations of America’s agony of bearing it’s untold story. So much of what we have witnessed in the last year – the violent insurrection on the nations’ Capitol, the pervasive push to white-wash Black people’s invaluable history and contributions to the growth and prosperity of our country, the countless policy moves to bolster voter suppression in states across America – are all meant to remind us to “eat in the kitchen when company comes.” What we urgently need to heal this divided society is an insurrection within the hearts and minds of those who believe that they possess a better, more potent brand of patriotism for this nation. An insurrection within hearts and minds that will disrupt and dismantle the false belief of racial superiority, rooted in the founding soil of this nation.
I am honored to offer my story, Jamare’s story and Romero’s story as reminder of how beautiful we are and that we, too are America. I encourage Black men and boys, and those who love and lead them, to let this book serve as Mission Fuel for sharing their own #ITooAmAmerica stories. Together we will eat well, grow strong, recognize our own beauty and proudly proclaim I, too, am America.
Please join me in congratulating and celebrating the team of midwives who helped birth I Too Am America: On Loving Black Men & Boys. We invite you to share the book on social media using the hashtag #ITooAmAmerica and inform five folks in your network about the exciting release of the book!