Faith of Our Fathers, Brothers, and Sons
Reading Black Men Speaking is not unlike the dichotomous soul-troubling and spirit-affirming experience of attending all-day Sunday or Wednesday night church services. The book is a gripping litany of sermon, scripture reading and spirituality. It is strident and unembarrassed by its message, urgent in its delivery, somewhat daunting in the tenets it proposes, and clear in its mission.
This book is a test of faith. And within all tests exists a tacit assertion: "If you are up to this, you will succeed. If not, you will learn more from your failing."
Like a month of Sunday sermons and songs, the mission of Black Men Speaking is divulged in parts -- structurally and rhetorically, selection by selection -- ech contributor offering his take on what has been the bane and/or benefit of his experience.
The introduction provides more than enough statistical evidence and emotional angst to justify the necessity of such a book. The introduction is, in some ways, a separate essay that is both a more formal departure from the contents that follow and a worthy foundation on which the urgency of the contents firmly rests.
As for the selections, Charles Johnson and John McCluskey Jr., the book's editors, have gathered a wide range of contributors who use a variety of formats to make their points. Issues of ownership of culture and heritage join with pleas to own up to responsibility as fathers, brothers, sons, and pillars of the community. The sometimes reductive and accusatory impressions toward African American women are accompanied by expressions of reverence and gratitude for elements of Black matriarchy.
The book may lose a few readers with some of its extreme or exclusive perspectives. But it will win others through the range of its approaches and its sheer candor. It is nothing if not honest. Right or wrong, for better or for worse, the honesty of these men provides a tone that may be missing from the recent wave of writing on the African American man.
Joseph W. Scott provides a testament of gratitude to a hardworking father who, by example and lesson, made Scott the man that he is. It reminds one of the tender and poignant resonance of Robert Hayden's famous Those Winter Sundays.
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Yusef Komunyakka provides painfully clear and lyric meditations on the Black male experience.
Don Belton, editor of his own collection of writings on Black male identity entitled Speak My Name, provides a deeply resonant memoir on the evolution of a mentor for troubled young relatives. That he reveals his homosexuality is more significant for its implication -- it is mentioned but not dwelled upon -- than its exposition.
Ellis Marsalis provides luminescent wisdom by delivering a beautifully written and intellectually stunning vision of how the education of our youth must not only include but rely upon cultural experience. …