Locally published book collects wisdom on raising African American sons—A book review By Joseph L. Mbele, Contributing Writer

 

A Black Parent’s Memoir by Jeffrey Groves and Shatona Kilgore-Groves, M.S., (Minneapolis: Black Parent Group Books, 2010, 94 pages) is a collection of 30 testimonies by African American parents on the issue of raising Black boys. The editors asked them to address four issues: whether the parents were able to connect with their sons and how; the process of educating the sons; self-criticism and reflections on what the parents would have done differently, and advice to other parents of Black sons. As we move through the book, we hear mothers as well as fathers, single or married. Some have only a son, or perhaps a son and a daughter, but others have more children. The parents come from different walks of life, economic situations, professions and educational levels.

The experience of each parent is different in terms of opportunities, challenges and coping strategies. There are parents whose experiences have been quite average and rather pleasant, but there are also parents who have faced incredible challenges. I appreciate the courage of the parents who told the stories of their difficult and unpleasant experiences. As one parent said, she prayed before speaking about her experiences, and she shared those unpleasant experiences in the hope of changing someone else’s life for the better. I found her testimony both humbling and inspiring. Readers might be interested in knowing how these parents were identified or selected. Others, such as African-born people and people of other ethnic groups, might be curious to know the reason for the focus on sons. Having lived in the U.S.A. for many years, I know something about the challenges African American males face in this country. African Americans surely know this well; it is part of their experience, but non-African Americans might need to be told explicitly.

A foreword by the authors would have provided some light on these issues. Reading this book as an African, I noted things that African Americans might take for granted, but which are not usually in the African experience, and vice versa. In the extended family system that defines the African experience, children are guided and shaped by a communal network of adults each of whom is expected to watch and discipline them. Incarceration, for example, is not a common experience in the African context.

This book sharpened my awareness of these differences. An African American father talks about how his son, through community involvement, “had an opportunity to see and participate in workshops led by professional men of color that valued education” (p. 44). Although such reflections are very meaningful to African Americans, Africans would not attach much value to the fact that their son was taught by a person of color or a person of their own color. All they want is that their children have good teachers, irrespective of color. Race is not such a big issue in the experience of most Africans, until they come to the U.S.A. Even after coming to the U.S.A., Africans do not grasp the complexity of American race issues the way African Americans do. Again, on page 44, the same parent notes that his son attended workshops that “dispelled the negative images associated with academic achievement and success.” This would strike Africans as strange, for they come with the idea that children must do well in school. There is no second thought about it.

Several parents in the book talk about their children being diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder and Attention Deficit Disorder. I doubt if a typical African parent knows what these concepts are. Africans have their own way of perceiving and interpreting these conditions that Americans describe as ADHD or ADD. It would be a good idea to have a sequel to this book, such as interviews on how to raise African American girls. Another project might be interviews with African parents, on their experience of raising boys and girls. That would broaden and enrich our notion of the Black parenting experience. In all these senses, this book is a valuable starting point. It is a good resource, a reminder that every human being is valuable, and that we can learn from every person’s situation. Joseph L. Mbele, a professor of English at St. Olaf College, is the author of Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences and Matengo Folktales.