Men We Reaped
"We who still live do what we must. Life is a hurricane, and we
board up to save what we can and bow low to the earth to crouch in the
small space of dirt where the wind will not reach. We honor
anniversaries of deaths by cleaning graves and sitting next to them
before fires, sharing food with those who will not eat again...We love
each other fiercely while we live and after we die..."
One of the books that should be up near the top of any Black
Lives Matter reading list is Jesmyn Ward's memoir, Men We Reaped.
Ward grew up poor and black in Mississippi. She was in a world where
racial hostility still created danger, where mothers had to raise
their children and support them from the low pay, hard work jobs they
were allowed to hold, where boys were raised with fewer restrictions
than girls but all too often died young.
Ward lost too many of the guys who mattered most to her. In Men
We Reaped she shares the stories of five of them: three childhood
friends, a cousin, and her only brother. She makes us see clearly and
in poignant detail their lives and personalities. She also points to
factors, such as indifferent schools that shuffled them through
instead of making the most of their talents, that ultimately doomed
In between these chapters she shares her growing up life. She
tells us about the on and off relationship between her parents that
left her mother worn out from cleaning house for rich whites and
having total responsibility for four children, the responsibilities
she herself had to take on early, the self loathing she came to feel
as many in her community did, and the lonliness she experienced as a
scholarship student at a school where she was the only poor black.
She invites us into the world she escaped for college and graduate
school only to be drawn back to.
At the beginning of the book Ward shares several quotes. One by
"We saw the lightning and that was the guns; and then we heard the
thunder and that was the big guns; and then we heard the rain falling
and that was the blood falling; and when we came to get in the crops,
it was dead men that we reaped."
And Tupac Shakur:
"Young adolescents in our prime live a life of crime,
Though it ain't logical, we hobble through these trying times.
Living blind: Lord help me with my troubled soul.
Why all my homies had to die before they got to grow?"
There is a gap of a century and a half between those times. Why
the Hell hasn't more changed? Why are too many young black men still
being reaped, still dying before they get to grow? These are
questions that should motivate us all to work toward solutions.
Whatever you do, read the book and let it take you way out of
the comfort zone many of us (whites) don't deserve to be in.
On a personal note, the UMaine students are back. After lonely weeks
shambling around a childless, silent house I am more than ready for
their laughter and spontanaity.
A great big shout out goes out to the UMaine students with wishes for
an awesome school year.
Sent from my iPod