Black Under by Ashanti Anderson

Black Under

Black Under by Ashanti Anderson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You might not be ready for this book, cause I know I wasn’t. However, it’s here and this book is not going anywhere. Ashanti Anderson has done a truly remarkable job here. In a short book of 30 pages she has blown my mind. She is a master storyteller, phenomenal linguist, and artful creator in her wordsmithing. You cannot categorize her work. She cannot be fit into a box, and will likely shoot out of a cannon if you try to manipulate and mold her work into something it’s not.

This book, Black Under, defies what poetry is supposed to look like, what it’s supposed to read like; how it’s supposed to make you feel.

Her metaphors are rapturous, and makes me want to live in her words forever. She is unflinching and unapologetic as she digs deep into our history. We are Black AF, and Black Under, and she demands everyone to know as such.

Some poems that will forever be etched in my mind are:
– Ode to Black Skin
– Slave Ship Haibun
– The Body Recalls
– Answer to an Earnest Prayer

Poetry is very subjective. Though these poems may not fit for many, you cannot deny the genius of Anderson’s words. Her words go within. Under your skin. Taking hold to every captive thought. This collection deserves all the attention and praise. Very well done.

Thank you to the author Ashanti Anderson, and Nanda at Coriolis, and Black Lawrence Press for this amazing collection and I cannot wait to hear more from Ashanti Anderson.

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A Knock at Midnight: A Story of Hope, Justice, and Freedom by Brittany K. Barnett

A Knock at Midnight: A Story of Hope, Justice, and Freedom

A Knock at Midnight: A Story of Hope, Justice, and Freedom by Brittany K. Barnett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is not an easy read. Back up, and read that again. This is not an easy read. This book is HEAVY. EMOTIONAL, HEART BREAKING, and FILLED WITH HOPE, DESPAIR, DESPERATION, and SACRIFICE.

Brittany K. Barnett is living out her passion and heart work. She is putting her money where her mouth is and she deeply cares for people’s lives. This memoir is so important and necessary, everyone should read this book.

Her memoir far exceeds what you would think as a memoir. Brittany has intertwined her life and experiences along with pursuing her ultimate passion of helping people get off life without parole sentences for non-violent drug offenses. She explains the draconian laws and the War on Drugs, and how they intercept with people’s real lives and how mass incarceration has been fueled by sentences that do not match the crime. Combating the “war on drugs” from the federal side looks like an unmarked van pulling up into the Black/Brown communities and kidnapping people for their entire lives. The federal government and prosecutors have teamed up in genocidal kidnapping of Black people especially, and discarding them into prison like they are nothing but trash. Prosecutors have historically went after Black people in such a horrific way, that they don’t even need to prove anything to put us in prison. They can make stuff up, get someone to agree to snitch, and have you in jail for life, all on little to no evidence. The burden of proof is not on the court, but on the person who’s been indicted on federal drug charges, specifically crack cocaine. They are the ones having to prove themselves innocent, versus the nonexistent premise of ‘innocent until proven guilty.’ That is not a luxury afforded to Black and Brown people. Black and Brown people have been treated as guilty for just being Black, for just surviving, for just being…. hell, for as little as association.

“But the notion that one is innocent until proven guilty is long gone from the American criminal justice system.” (p. 290)

Brittany shares her life experiences, sharing how her mother was impacted by drugs in the 90s. Her mother was sentenced to an 8 year prison stint for possession of drugs, crack cocaine to be exact. Her mother served 2 of those years before she was released on probation, but she had to serve time for being addicted to a controlled substance. Instead of receiving medical attention, care, and treatment, they sent her to prison instead. Now, in the age of opioid addiction in the white community, the disparities of drug abuse is quite evident. White people are led away to treatment facilities, while Black people are corralled up and sent off to prison.

“We punish addiction in this country, treating it as a moral flaw instead of an illness. Prison does not bring redemption, and it does not cure or treat addiction.” (p. 74)

Whole cities have turned into prison towns, just to continue the influx of putting Black people away. Mass incarceration is real. Prosecutors have been reaping the benefits of mass incarceration in ways that should be a heinous crime. Especially with the use of the 851 enhancement, people just go to jail forever. Literally. Prosecutors have sole discretion in pursuing the 851 enhancement and judges literally have their hands tied when it comes to sentencing these matters. The 851 enhancement allows prosecutors to issue mandatory life sentences that are set in stone, which are wielded to coerce guilty pleas and allow the accused to snitch in order to receive a lesser sentence. If they do not snitch/cooperate/or are adamant in invoking their right to a fair trial, they are retaliated on and the prosecutor then imposes the 851 enhancement sealing their fate into prison for life. It is a sick and dreadful disease, the abuse of power that prosecutors seemingly have, and the laws need to be replaced with something more equitable across the board. Prosecutors act in revengeful ways to lock up Black bodies, solely unchecked. Black people are essentially punished for merely surviving.

Brittany’s memoir is filled with care and compassion. Her book showcases that she cares about people. A memoir is usually about self, but this memoir is more than just about Brittany’s life. She shares with us all her deep passion and commitment to saving the lives of people who don’t have a life to live. She is working to save those in virtual death sentences to have a chance at a life. To unshackle those imprisoned to give them some chance at seeing the free world, to help them continue to engage and lead productive lives, and help mothers and daughters continue having a connected relationship despite the separation prison doles out mercilessly.

People keep saying that the justice system is broken. It is not. The system is doing exactly what it was designed to do. Pick up where slavery left off. The laws and regulations that have been molded and shaped to such fine precision that there doesn’t even need to be evidence to send people to jail for life. Black people have been the unfortunate recipients of these laws. Black people who get caught up in the drug ring (selling or using), “exemplifies the role that extreme poverty, intergenerational trauma, and societal neglect plays in both the War on Drugs and the mass incarceration crisis.” (p. 282) Judge Sharp, a former federal judge who resigned his lifetime appointment because of the laws, says this: “There [is] no justice in [these] courtroom[s] [today], as long as these laws are on the books, there never will be.” (p. 295)

Brittany is a champion and a fighter who is helping to push back on these draconian laws. Doing what she can legally to get people out of prison, be it through the long shot of a clemency grant or through the courts in reduced sentences. However she can do it, she’s working to get people out of living death sentences. Brittany is making things happen between her organizations like G.E.M. (Girls Embracing Mothers) and her Buried Alive Project, she is living out her passion and heart work in rescuing people who are being sent away for life on “ghost dope charges,” and the like. Brittany is trying to change the narrative of so many people, men, women, and also the children who are living with parents locked up.

“… the suffering of children with parents in prison is unspeakable, and the threat of lasting damage from that trauma – emotional, social, personal, is very real.” (p. 169)

I applaud her for being brave, for stepping out on faith, and for listening to her heart. We need more Brittany’s out here stepping up for the Black community. Aiding and providing knowledge, expertise, and legal consultation for those disadvantaged and living without a chance of parole. If this book doesn’t propel you forward in a motivated way to get active or help in some way, I don’t know what could move you. This book is truly moving! You are on the edge of your seat hoping with Brittany about her clients, like Sharanda, Mike, Corey, Wayland, De-Ann, Chris, Keyon, and Donel, rooting her on in her work with G.E.M., screaming at the top of your lungs when someone gets their second chance at life, and holding your breath for those going through the process of seeking clemency or reduced sentences. This book shines a light on everything wrong with the laws of our land. It shines a light on prosecutors who abuse their unfettered power. This book shines a light on Critical Race Theory, and how racism is ingrained into the very fabric of America’s beginning and the current society, which is NOT UP FOR DEBATE. It is the TRUTH!

We need more champions, we need more Brittany’s, we need more hope, and we need laws changed, NOW! We need hope, justice, and freedom. 5 stars. Required reading.

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The Poisoned City: Flint’s Water and the American Urban Tragedy by Anna Clark

The Poisoned City: Flint's Water and the American Urban Tragedy

The Poisoned City: Flint’s Water and the American Urban Tragedy by Anna Clark

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Poisoned City by Anna Clark is the best book I’ve read this year. This book is going into my favorites of all time.

This is the first full account of the Flint Water crisis. However, this book far supersedes the Flint Water crisis and what happened with the devastation to the residents of Flint. This book explains how the ENTIRE United States is complicit in the failure of proper infrastructure in all cities, and it all stems from SYSTEMIC RACISM!!

The Poisoned City is a direct account from the people on the ground, reporting, protesting, advocating, screaming and shouting about the quality of Flint’s water. Anna Clark also documents how core cities around the nation have also been disinvested in due to the mere presence of Black and Brown people. The purposeful disrespect and neglect has literally rotted our infrastructure to the core, to the point where it’s endangering our entire society, no matter the race.

The residents of Flint were lied to, repeatedly. They were poisoned by their own water, while the agencies and departments in charge drank bottled water by the gallons. Mismanagement, disinvestment, dismissive, and wanton neglect was at the forefront of the water crisis. Anna Clark goes back to the beginning to when Flint had become the hub of innovation and vehicle creation, and detailed the rich history of the city. She then intricately weaves together the backstory of how all core communities and cities are just like Flint all over the United States. Due to the evils of systemic racism, our infrastructure is basically all the same. No matter your race, we all suffer when systemic racism rules over everything.

If you are non-white, the presence of hazardous waste in your community is almost expected. The dangers of the environment will most likely leach into your house at higher rates than any other community. Because of the sheer presence of non-white skin, the land and property surrounding the community is considered less than, and goes for cheap, in this land of capitalism.

Anna took great care in telling the story of Flint’s disaster from the perspective of the people it actually harmed. The local organizers who didn’t get the credit, she puts their heroic efforts on display. However, she also acknowledges and tells how the Flint crisis didn’t get any traction until a non-black person had to somehow validate that there was a crisis and a need for action. Before then, the City of Flint continued to dismiss their claims and failed to act before it was too late. Due to the negligence, the greed, the long-reaching emergency management authority, and the legal immunity, you see what happens to people who are deemed as worthless. They bear the brunt of all injustices, and it continues for generations. Not only does this happen locally, but state wide and nationwide, to include the federal government.

The powers that be in the City of Flint destroyed the people’s trust, but now, it’s not enough to trust people because we already know what’s going to happen. There is a pattern all too plain; it’s called racism. There needs to be a revamping, and restructuring, and an overhaul on our local government, state government, and federal government levels. The very bones of all of our infrastructure in every core city was saturated by racism from the onset, and so now because of the disinvestment and neglect for hundreds of years (in some places), our infrastructure will turn on us all. It’s more than having good quality water, it’s also about how our basic needs that should be met equally and not disproportionately, as they are right now.

Michigan is also due for a revamping of their laws, and how transparency and authority over certain aspects needs to handled differently. Gross mismanagement and dismissive actions harmed Flint in more ways than just water. The entire city was being poisoned and told that they weren’t, over and over and over. Then when reports started to show the facts of the poisoned water, the people in charge put forth so much time and energy into covering up, delaying, lying, diverting, and kicking-the-can down the road that they created so many layers of corruption, it seemed like everyone was just allowing the poison to continue, as if they were blind, often times just flatly saying it’s not poisoned while drinking filtered or bottled water themselves, all while knowing the water was bad.

Racially restrictive covenants existed in Flint as the standard. These covenants still exist today, even when people say they don’t. Just because we have the Fair Housing Act, and Clean Water Act, and Clean Air Act, it doesn’t matter. We continue to see the racism that was built into our infrastructure on a daily basis. The gentrification that happens to historically Black communities is alarming. They are erasing Black/Brown people out of neighborhoods and cities. They are trying to erase the history and very existence of Black/Brown people. Even when they get called out, they still drag their feet to help “those” people they are harming because they have been deemed as worth-less for so many generations. It took 18 months for the city and state of Michigan to correct their poisoned water. 12 people died and many more have been poisoned with deadly toxic levels of lead because of their negligence and lack of action. All while surrounded by the freshest of water in the 5 Great Lakes of the United States.

Unfortunately, this story, although it has received nationwide coverage and attention to help push people into fixing the problems, on top of the issue of failing infrastructures in Black communities, have not been taken on as priority. People in power work harder to protect themselves and their institutions than doing what’s right for the whole public, equally. They divide their priorities and assign importance to whites over Black people every single day. Many non-white people have little to no trust for the government, and they are right in having that feeling. The people in charge have not been fair and they continue to disinvest in communities that don’t serve them. If our strength lies where we are weak at, then we are in terrible shape. Because the “boot-strap mentality” does not work the same for all people. Black people do not have boots to begin with to even pull up, so when people say, “if poor whites or European immigrants can pull themselves up by their boot straps, so can African Americans,” it is a lie. A myth that continues to be perpetuated by ignorance or just plain old lack of care. Many Black people have never even had the means to have boots to be able to pull up, PERIOD. Black people are redlined wherever they go; housing, medical, employment, finances, and legally. They continuously have to fight an uphill battle that has no reprieve, and then are told they are just making up the difficulties. That is how the society is set up for Black people. While white people, or those non-Black people are allowed to accumulate wealth in such a way as to be able to come here and start a life from nothing, while being afforded all the benefits of systemic racism that don’t touch them in any way. Flint is a perfect example of how systemic racism is played out, to the death and detriment of people who are placed at the end of a totem pole of priorities, that constantly keeps being reshuffled to keep them on the bottom.

My hat goes off to Anna Clark for the impeccable research, and thoughtful care she gave to the Flint community. She was able to pinpoint exactly where the problems started, and her detailed account is spot on. For anyone who has followed this story, you should read this book. For those who want to know what happened in Flint, and the gross mismanagement of the crisis, you should read this book. If you want to know how the entire US handles our infrastructure, you should read this book. This book is heavy, but so necessary in calling attention to what the problem is and naming it. Anna, your words will stay with me forever. Thank you for your writing, it is a tremendous blessing to us.

Winner of the 2019 Hillman Prize for Book Journalism

Winner of the 2019 Rachel Carson Environmental Book Award

Winner of the 2019 Gross Award for Literature

Finalist for the 2019 Helen Bernstein Award for Excellence in Book Journalism

Longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction (2019)

A Michigan Notable Book (2019)

This book is required reading. 5 stars.

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My Time Will Come by Ian Manuel

My Time Will Come: A Memoir of Crime, Punishment, Hope, and Redemption

My Time Will Come: A Memoir of Crime, Punishment, Hope, and Redemption by Ian Manuel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was absolutely astonished while reading this book. Speechless.

This is the true story of Ian Manuel, and his case. Manuel discusses the crime he committed as a 13 year old child, the environment that molded and shaped him, and how the US penal system swallows up our Black boys and men with a vengeance; hoping that they are no longer apart of society, forever. This book should not only enlighten you to Ian Manuel’s plight, but this book should open your eyes to the severity of treatment that is being handed down in prisons towards minors, minorities; particularly, Black males.

In 1990, the state of Florida sentenced Ian Manuel to “natural life,” life without parole, 15 years, and life probation when he was 13 years old. The state of Florida deemed that a 13 year old Black boy would never be redeemable as a human being in his entire life and deserved to die in prison. On top of this harsh and cruel punishment, Manuel was constantly assigned to solitary confinement for 18 years, from the age of 15 years old. The decompensation, the deterioration, and emotional and inner turmoil that he went through for the 26 years he spent in prison, was hard to read and process through emotionally.

What the US has done to children in this country is beyond comprehension. Although, Manuel was able to survive prison and the cycle of abuse that he had to endure, the system needs to be dismantled. If anyone doubts how systemic racism has constructed the pipeline to prison for Black boys, you should read this book.

Prison abolition has also been shouted into the halls of justice for decades. Mass incarceration of our Black youth has reached levels of insurmountable damage that is damn near impossible to correct. Prison advocates, private prison industry, state and city legislation that allows for the genocide of our people all have blood on their hands. This book showcases the affects of poverty, poor quality education, systemic racism, and over-policing in Black communities that lead to a demise in some of our Black youth. There is no way that a 13 year old Black boy would be irredeemable, beyond repair and rehabilitated, sentenced to die in prison. As Bryan Stevenson has stated, “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” The racism and prejudice that exists in prisons need to be eradicated. Prison abolition is our answer.

I am utterly mesmerized by Ian’s life, and how he is adjusting to his life post-prison. He incurred some serious trauma in his life, and I just pray for his soul, his vulnerability, and his ability to discern what is in the best interest for his life.

Thank you to Netgalley, Ian Manuel, and Pantheon Books for this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. Full review, link in bio.

Companion reads with this book:
· Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
· The Sun does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton
· Heavy by Kiese Laymon
· Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
· Bird Uncaged by Marlon Peterson

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Kids on the March by Michael G. Long

Kids on the March: 15 Stories of Speaking Out, Protesting, and Fighting for Justice

Kids on the March: 15 Stories of Speaking Out, Protesting, and Fighting for Justice by Michael Long

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Powerful. Informative. Revolutionary.

Kids on the March is a great resource for kids who have always wanted to speak up, march, protest, or stand up for others. Although many children think that protesting is something that adults do, this book confirms the fact that many of the protests that have been conducted around the world initially started off because of the children. Children watch adults and the world around them. Kids know and have a good sense of what’s right or wrong. Protesting is something that any person can do at any age. This book details 15 stories from around the world of how children have stepped into the roles of activism and organizing people together for marches, protests, sit-ins, die-ins, etc.

This book tells of 15 stories of how children have participated in protests since 1903 to current day, and how the protests have impacted the communities around them. This book shares the details of 15 different protests/marches in such a way that children are able to understand the information. More importantly, the book has an interactive section where it shares information about how kids can start their own protest and provide what’s needed for a march.

This book is definitely inspiring to other children who have a heart for standing up for civil rights, climate change, gun control, immigration, and a host of other issues that plague humanity. This book shares an important message with other children; you are never too young to protest or march or stand up for what’s right. Anyone can change the world and fight for what’s right. Don’t wait on the adults to get it right; children have a voice as well!

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the accounts of the children in all of these movements; however, the ones that pulled on my heart strings were the protests and marches surrounding Standing Rock and their water source, the protest for a better school during Jim Crow, March on Washington, George Floyd, and the protests around the Chicanx community in East Los Angeles. The author did an incredible job in making the writing especially accessible for children of all ages, and I’m excited seeing something like this out in the world for our children. The children are our future and we need to protect them and our earth so that they can have an earth to live on when we leave this place.

I would highly recommend this book to all children, but especially 4th grade and up as required reading in school. This book can easily be a great conversation starter in social studies classes and allow children to research other protests and marches that were not included in this book. Solid 4 stars. Well done!

Thank you Algonquin Young Readers and Michael Long for this advanced readers copy in exchange for a fair an honest review.

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