What compelled you to tell the story/stories in your most recent book? (And specifically, why this genre?)
Working with the young men in Jersey City through my non-profit, I saw how they made bonehead decisions when they weren’t in my presence. They saw a lot of the hard work that I was doing but they didn’t understand the why behind many of the decisions I made for the organization. I really wrote the book, You’re the Answer to the Problem: From the Hood to Harvard and Back Again, so that they could have access to the information I thought was pertinent. Like, growing up in the same environment as me or navigating the same streets or even having the same teachers in their classrooms.
All of those played a role in why I decided to write the book, and the genre was very clear. It had to be non-fiction. It had to tell a story. The young men had to be inspired by it, and they had to know what to do in order to be successful. So, I thought that I would lay the blueprint out so that they could know: 1) that we have similar stories, and 2) that if I did it, they could as well.
What obstacles—either inner or outer—did you encounter while writing the book?
When I first started writing the book, I learned that my wife was pregnant. I didn’t understand at all what that meant. I knew that the baby was coming. I knew that there was an expectation for me being a dad, but I didn’t understand how tumultuous it would be, especially for me. So, basically, the outer struggle was navigating the life of a dad and also working full time.
The inner struggle came from a lot of stories from my past that I either forgot or put on the back burner. Writing the book with the help of a book coach and therapy, allowed me to put things into perspective and really hone in on who I am as an individual. So, the inner work was difficult in that I was unable to, by myself, unpack it. But I had a team. A book coach and a therapist to help me unpack and make sense of my experiences. Some things that I allowed to remain unseen on purpose or hadn’t spoken about on purpose, surfaced again, and it caused a lot of strife and discomfort, and sometimes sadness, because I had to relive it again. But the one thing I learned is that I’m not the same helpless young man I was back then. Although I have these memories, I don’t have to be victimized. I am victorious.
How has writing your most recent book changed or added value to your life?
So interesting because I was just talking about this the other day. I have a cohort of individuals who are like, “Oh, wow, you wrote a book! That’s amazing!” The point of that is that I’ve been amazing, if that’s the case. The book doesn’t validate. It just magnifies. And so, the added value is that I have a title as an author now. And people really understand my story, so they know it was difficult for me.
People see me in these boardrooms. People see me connected with CEOs and presidents of organizations, but I started out as a kid who had very little resources and worked really, really hard to obtain what I thought the American Dream should be.
Did you self-publish or did you go the traditional route? Why did you choose the route you chose, and what was that process like?
I chose to self-publish, and I self-published because I wanted to create a publishing company under my son’s name just to pay homage to who he has helped me become. And you know, when we talk about legacy, it’s making sure that we put those systems in place to begin the process of legacy. And not just with morals because we’re going to leave productive citizens who are morally conscious—we’re going to build those types of kids (because we have two children now)—but also, at this juncture in my life, I feel financially obligated to set them up in ways that I wasn’t.
Are you friends with other writers? If so, how do they influence your writing?
No, I’m not friends with other writers, per se. The majority of my friends are teachers because I was a teacher for fourteen years. I also have friends I’ve been connected to since childhood. I am inspired and influenced by my circle. I have so many amazing people in my life who are doing great, great, great things, and I’m inspired by the work they do, in general. The social, emotional learning and the cultural competence type of work educating young people… I’m inspired and attracted to that type of work.
Do you maintain a regular writing practice? If so, what does it look like? If not, how do you stay engaged in your writing projects?
Yes, when I’m inspired, I have my notes in my phone, a big chart of poster board paper on a wall at my house that I doodle on. It starts with many ideas that come based on experiences. There are times when I think about privilege. Then, I examine the privileges that I’ve had, and then I’ll write a note about privilege. The other day, I wrote about meritocracy. I started writing about that. Then, I started writing about my life as a man, as a husband, and as a father. Then, I’ll look to see if there are any themes in all of my thoughts. Typically, there are, and I try to string them together with quotes or transitional sentences to create a robust piece.
Writing isn’t my strong suit, so I am the big-picture guy, and then, I have support in terms of editing and connecting things, having someone read it and ask probing questions, so that the project continues to build.
How many other books or stories do you have in progress right now?
That’s so funny because people are asking me about another book. The experience with the first book, and my only book, has been interesting. When I think about the process, there’s trepidation there. I’m trying to work past that. But, yes. The short answer is “yes.” And I need to write something around young men and how to educate them appropriately, how to discipline them. Something in that arena, because that’s the place I occupy with my non-profit. I can rise as the thought leader in this space because I’ve had so many experiences with the young men and edifying them, developing them. I really look forward to the project because I’m excited about this. This will be a how-to book.
Do you view writing as a spiritual practice?
Absolutely. I think the work that writers do is to hold a mirror to society in many ways, and push society into a better place. I find it to be very spiritually edifying in many ways because you’re speaking to the masses, and the work that you do is going to enhance the lives of others in a tremendous way.
What would your life look like if you didn’t write?
Interestingly enough, I thought that teaching was going to be something I did for the rest of my life. I thought that because it was something I love, that I would never let it go. But since writing the book, I decided I wasn’t going to teach anymore, that my life’s purpose was going to pivot me in a different direction. So, I would still be the founder and executive director of my non-profit, Kismet of Kings, but I probably wouldn’t have the notoriety or the spotlight for writing the book. It would probably be about being a trailblazer in this arena with young men of color, particularly in urban settings.
Why do you write?
I write because it is therapeutic for me. There are social ailments that make me think, “This could be better,” and so I write about it because I know that if I have an issue, or if I see that things could change, it’s probably something someone else has thought about or someone else needs. So, I write so that I can change the trajectory of the next generation so that they can dodge pitfalls that might cause them to fail. I think that my parents did the same for me. I think it’s our duty as a generation to do it for the next generation.