Watkins (The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir, 2016, etc.) anchors his new collection of essays in the voices, language, everyday realities, and dreams of black citizens of his home East Baltimore neighborhood.
“In the midst of all the black narratives stacked on bookshelves, we have a problem—a major problem,” writes the author. “People from the street are absent from them.” As an emergent writer with a background in the streets, he found himself a piece of “celebrity” after landing a viral essay with Salon. The author continues to offer deep critiques of the elitism and respectability that directly and indirectly censor voices of the multitudes of black experience, and he explores what it means to be accountable to his people in his writings. While these communities are overtly susceptible to the imposed hurdles of systemic racism, their experiences and worldviews don’t easily conform to the #StayWoke packaging of mainstream black-led protest movements. As such, Watkins stresses the importance of letting more people speak for themselves and combining voice with action on a wide variety of institutional and structural forces that impede black progress. He touches on topics such as education, policing, food deserts, poor housing, drug markets, structural poverty, and more. “The days of one black savior are over,” he writes. “Most of the people who identify as black leaders in the mainstream are too famous to directly interact with the people who need them the most. I learned to rethink what a leader is, what a mentor is, and how to be a valuable ally.” Ultimately, being driven by “a whole lot of love” has allowed him to realize that the greatest rewards lie within the work. As he writes, he is “blessed in being able to try” as he continues to bring East Baltimore to the world.
A strong offering that brings nuance and multiplicity to readers attempting to decipher the black male urban experience while uplifting the stories, visions, and love that incubated a rising star.