A solipsistic memoir of student government service.




Johnson details how his college years shaped him into a student leader in this motivational memoir.

When the New Jerseyan author arrived at Marist College in upstate New York in 2009, he was a shy, anxious, pessimistic freshman who wouldn’t have struck many people as student-government material. He had, in fact, unsuccessfully run for office several times in high school. Even so, Johnson writes, he knew that he wanted to be a member of the Marist student government from the first moment he saw the student-body president give a presentation: “My ears perked up once again as the regal figure before the mic promised that ‘someone in this room’ would, one day, take up his mantle as the chief representative of the student body.” The book chronicles Johnson’s four-year rise through the college’s Student Government Association, during which time he reinvented himself as a confident, ambitious, and outgoing campus personality. Through successes, disappointments, and local crises (such as Hurricane Sandy), Johnson transformed into a true leader, going on to pursue a career in local government in Montville Township, New Jersey, following his 2013 graduation. This memoir also serves as a manual on how to become a better leader, as each chapter of Johnson’s story concludes with a “Lessons Learned” section regarding each experience that he describes (“I can certainly say that my sophomore term was the most transformative period of my undergraduate career”). The author then offers Leadership Profile Exercises, which he encourages readers to complete in order to better fulfill their own leadership potential. Johnson’s account of the convoluted 2011 class elections is oddly compelling from a procedural perspective. Also, his unflaggingly optimistic tone makes him a pleasant narrator. However, he’s not always a captivating one. Although his experiences in student government were surely influential on his own personal development, nothing in his accounts of life in college or afterward is terribly exciting. The reading experience is akin to having someone take you on a tour of a college campus that you didn’t go to yourself; you can tell that they’re excited and nostalgic about it—but you’re not. Even so, one could still imagine a book like this possessing a certain precocious charm, but this narrative instead feels more like an extended personal essay for a law school application, with prose that often seems overwrought. The text’s relentless self-seriousness also doesn’t help matters. For example, for those readers who may be wondering why the 20-something author didn’t wait a bit longer to pen his memoirs, the author front-loads this retort: “the sands of time...wipe away a certain emotional edge that holds the finer details in which one might find underlying motivations for certain decisions and courses of action.” That said, he doesn’t recount any decisions or courses of action that really require very much in the way of explanation. The genre of leadership memoirs is vast and deep, and readers looking for tips will be able to find more experienced and accomplished guides.

A solipsistic memoir of student government service.

Pub Date: N/A


Page Count: 317

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 9, 2017

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.


Straight talk to blacks and whites about the realities of racism.

In her feisty debut book, Oluo, essayist, blogger, and editor at large at the Establishment magazine, writes from the perspective of a black, queer, middle-class, college-educated woman living in a “white supremacist country.” The daughter of a white single mother, brought up in largely white Seattle, she sees race as “one of the most defining forces” in her life. Throughout the book, Oluo responds to questions that she has often been asked, and others that she wishes were asked, about racism “in our workplace, our government, our homes, and ourselves.” “Is it really about race?” she is asked by whites who insist that class is a greater source of oppression. “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “What is the model minority myth?” Her sharp, no-nonsense answers include talking points for both blacks and whites. She explains, for example, “when somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing.” She unpacks the complicated term “intersectionality”: the idea that social justice must consider “a myriad of identities—our gender, class, race, sexuality, and so much more—that inform our experiences in life.” She asks whites to realize that when people of color talk about systemic racism, “they are opening up all of that pain and fear and anger to you” and are asking that they be heard. After devoting most of the book to talking, Oluo finishes with a chapter on action and its urgency. Action includes pressing for reform in schools, unions, and local governments; boycotting businesses that exploit people of color; contributing money to social justice organizations; and, most of all, voting for candidates who make “diversity, inclusion and racial justice a priority.”

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58005-677-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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