I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Book Review

There are some books that are so much a part of our culture that there is no denying their larger cultural impact.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by the late writer, poet, and civil rights activist Maya Angelou, was published in 1969. The most recent edition, with a foreword by Oprah Winfrey, was published in 2009.

The book is an autobiography and the story of Angelou’s childhood. Born to a poor African American family, Maya and her brother Bailey spend the first years of life living with their grandmother in a small town in the American south. Though she is dealing with abandonment issues and the pervasive prejudice of the time (which unfortunately still exists today), Maya still finds joy and pleasure in learning.

Her life is forever altered when she is assaulted by a much older man after returning to her mother in St. Louis. Later, as a teenager who by then is living in San Fransisco, she discovers the power of literature and the strength that comes when you learn to love yourself.

Why I have never read this book, I don’t know. But I am glad I did.

Her experience as a girl is both universal and powerfully specific to the era she grew up in. Finding confidence, especially after a hard girlhood, sometimes only occurs long after we have grown up. Looking back at my own teenage years, I wish I would have had the ability to develop that same self-belief that Angelou was able to manifest at that same age. Perhaps some things might have turned out differently.

I can only imagine the emotional digging it took to excavate the crap from her youth and put it into a narrative that we can all find something in common. It takes courage to do that. When it is done well (as she obviously has accomplished), it opens the door for readers to possibly do the same with their own lives and emotional baggage.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is available wherever books are sold.

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Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality Book Review

No social movement that aims to create a better world is without its internal struggle. While the men are at the forefront, it is often the women who do the work. But few are given the spotlight and the respect they deserve.

The late Constance Baker Motley was one of these women. Her story is told in the new biography Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality. Written by Tomiko Brown-Nagin, it was published in January. Born to immigrants from the Caribbean in 1921, she came of age in an era in which both her gender and her skin color created barriers. Instead of just submitting to these barriers, she broke them. After graduating from law school, she was the only female on staff working for the legal team of the NAACP under the leadership of the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

Balancing work, marriage, and motherhood, Baker Motley smashed both Jim Crow to bits and created a large crack in the glass ceiling. Her career contained a lot of the firsts: the first African-American woman who was a state Senator in NY and the federal judiciary, and the first woman elected as Manhattan Borough President.

As a product of the American education system, I am utterly dismayed that she is not a household name. She was not just a groundbreaker, but a rule breaker. These days, it is perfectly normal for a woman to have the figurative balls of her job, her marriage, and her children in the air at the same time. But not back then. In fighting for the rights of both women and Black Americans, she paved the way for equality that has become the norm and unfortunately, still has to be fought for.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality is available wherever books are sold.

The Wonder Years Review

The Wonder Years is one of the most beloved television series of the modern era. The story of growing up from the perspective of Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage) speaks to the 12 year old in all of us.

The reboot of the series premiered on Tuesday on ABC. As in the original program, the story is set in 1968, but in Montgomery, Alabama. Our protagonist is 12 year old Dean Williams (Elisha Williams). Narrating the story from decades in the future as the adult Dean is Don Cheadle. As Dean starts on his journey from childhood to adulthood, the Civil Right movement plays on in the background affecting everything and everyone around him.

The Wonder Years is one of the best new series of the fall. It has the charm and nostalgia of its predecessor, while feeling relevant with the issues that African-Americans and other people of color are still dealing with. It hits both the heart and the head, making the viewer think while reminding us of the joys and perils of being on the precipice of our teenage years.

Do I recommend it? Yes

The Wonder Years airs on ABC on Tuesday at 8:30 PM.

Respect Movie Review

When we experience trauma, the emotional scars have a tendency to last long after the event that created the trauma is over. When it resurfaces and starts to take control, there are two options. The first is to look it in the eye and stop running from it. The other is to let it take the wheel.

The new Aretha Franklin biopic, Respect, premiered last weekend. It tells the story of the late and iconic performer in two sections: her early years and the late 1950’s to the early 1970’s, when her career was just taking off. Born and raised in Detroit, Aretha’s parents, C.L. and Barbara Franklin (Forest Whittaker and Audra McDonald) divorced when she was young. C.L. knew that his daughter was a musical child prodigy (played as a child by Skye Dakota Turner) and was more than willing to promote her gift to anyone who would listen. He was also controlling and unwilling to let her make her own decisions when it came to music.

In 1959, the adult Aretha (Jennifer Hudson) is eager to see her dream of becoming a professional musician turn into reality. But after multiple albums, she is at a crossroads. Aretha can either let her father dictate her career or take a chance on going her own way, musically speaking and letting her husband, Ted White (Marlon Wayans) manage her. But the marriage is not all sunshine and roses. While she is on the path to becoming a global superstar, the fight for Civil Rights continues on with Aretha on the forefront.

This movie is amazing. Hudson was born to play this role. She does not merely play the part, she embodies Franklin. There points in which I had to wonder if I was watching a documentary or a fictionalized adaptation of her biography. If this film and Hudson specifically does not walk away with an Oscar, something is wrong with the voting. Though some scenes could have been cut down a little, it is a wonderful film that reminds us of the power of overcoming what holds us back.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Respect is currently in theaters.

Throwback Thursday-The Ernest Green Story (1993)

To be the first in anything is to become a hero. It is also a difficult journey that tests the strongest among us. Ernest Green is a part of the Little Rock Nine, a group of African-American students who were chosen to desegregate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. He is also the first African-American student to graduate from  the school in 1958.

In 1993, his story was told in The Ernest Green Story.  Morris Chestnut played the title role in the television movie.

I feel like this is one of those movies we should all see, regardless of race or ethnicity. America in 2018 is not the same America of the late 1950’s. But we are also, not so far away from the period. If nothing else, this film is not only a reminder of how far we have come, it is also a reminder that the battle for civil rights and true equality still needs to be fought.

I recommend it.

 

RIP Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali passed away yesterday.

Known the world over as the face of boxing, he was also politically outspoken.

Starting his career during the civil rights era, his presence helped to break down barriers.

In the 1960’s, Ali openly refused to serve in Vietnam, citing his then recent conversion to Islam as one of several reasons for being a conscientious objector.

During the 1970’s and 1980’s, Ali’s fame grew. Diagnosed with Parkinsons in the early 1980’s, he slowly withdrew from public life.

Remembered as a boxer, a political activist and a very wise man, Muhammad Ali is and will always be the greatest.

RIP, sir.

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