11 Must-Read Books for Black History Month

11 Must-Read Books for Black History Month

Don’t Miss The Celebrating Our Heritage Section!

As Black History Month commences, here are a few must-have books from Black authors, spanning time periods, themes and genres. However, one thing they have in common is critical acclaim and a strong command of tackling the Black experience with grace, courage, originality, and historical context, making them essential reads during Black History Month and throughout the year.


1. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Ralph Ellison’s masterpiece novel is frequently included on the list of must-read American books by one of the most prolific Black authors. The story follows an African American man whose color renders him invisible. It’s a groundbreaking take on a racially polarized society and the struggle to find oneself through it all.


2. Home by Toni Morrison

The 2012 novel by Morrison tells the story of a 20-something Korean War veteran and his journey home from an integrated army to a segregated society. The book was named one of the best novels of 2012 for its careful consideration of mental illness, race relations, family, history, and the concept of home.


3. How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston

Baratunde Thurston, a longtime writer for The Onion, serves up laughs with this collection of comical essays, such as “How to Speak for All Black People” and “How To Celebrate Black History Month.” Thurston covers social interactions and media portrayals with an insightful and satirical perspective.


4. God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse by James Weldon Johnson

James Weldon Johnson, creator of the Black National AnthemLift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” first published God’s Trombones in 1927 as a book of poems. The poems take on the structure of a traditional sermon and tell several different parables and Bible stories, some of which specifically focus on the African American story. Dr. Cornel West and Henry Louis Gates have called this collection one of Johnson’s most notable works.


5. The Beautiful Struggle: A Memoir by Ta-Nehisi Coates

From the best-selling author comes a poignant tale of life and race in the inner city. Coates explains how his father worked for his sons to obtain a free education and escape Baltimore’s drug culture. This inspiring book tells a powerful narrative about community and honoring your history across generations.


6. Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

Citizen is an award-winning collection of literature blurring the lines between poetry and criticism. Divided into seven chapters, it provides a powerful meditation on race that creates a lyrical portrait of our current social and political climate. Hailed as “a dazzling expression of the painful double consciousness of Black life in America,” according to the Washington Post. Citizen is said to feel like an “eavesdropping on America.”


7. Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable

You may think you know Malcolm X, but you’ve never read anything like Marable’s highly-regarded biography, which provides new perspectives and information on the controversial leader. Marable connects Malcolm’s life with other leaders, faith, and Black Nationalism in a masterful, historical context and call for social change.


8. Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead

In this novel, an African American teenager spends a summer with his brother in 1985 Sag Harbor. The work is more personal than most of Whitehead’s books and explores race, class, and commercial culture in light of a newer generation of Black Americans who are less marked by their color.


9. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

In a classic tale, Wilkerson chronicles the journey of three African Americans who took part in the massive movement from the South to the North, Midwest, and West that millions of Black families took in the 20th century. The Warmth of Other Suns is an acclaimed historical account that studies a definitive period in American history.


10. Selected Poems of Langston Hughes by Langston Hughes

This extensive collection of poems was hand-picked by Hughes, himself, prior to his death in 1967 and span his entire career. They offer a breathtaking look at being Black in America that is contemplative, celebratory, gut-wrenching and praiseworthy. From “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” and “The Weary Blues,” to “Still Here” and “Refugee in America,” this collection directs us to fight, believe, dream, and claim our self-worth.


11. Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Pattillo Beals

In this riveting memoir, Beals recounts her time on the front lines of school desegregation as a member of the Little Rock Nine – the group of African-American students who famously integrated Arkansas’ Central High School. Her account of the harrowing experiences that forged her courage will stick with you long after the last page.


Video Courtesy of LEFT ON READ

Are there other titles that you’d like to add to the list? Share them below.

What is it like to be a Christian in Egypt?

What is it like to be a Christian in Egypt?

In this Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018 photo, journalist and author Shady Lewis Botros poses with a copy of his book, “Ways of the Lord,” in London. The new Arabic-language novel, the author’s first, explores the lives of Egyptian Christians, dealing with discrimination but also a Church aligned with a state seeking to control them. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Shady Lewis Botros says his recently published novel — “Ways of the Lord” — can be broadly viewed as an attempt to answer one question: What it’s like to be a Christian in Egypt?

The answer, given in stories narrated by the book’s chief character, is complex and often disheartening. It’s giving your children neutral names that don’t identify them as Christians in hopes they’ll have a sporting chance of progress in the mainly Muslim nation. It means facing baseless but dangerous charges of spying for Israel at time of war. It means turning off the lights at home and gathering the family in one room to escape the attention of a Muslim mob on the street.

Beyond entrenched discrimination, the Arabic-language novel explores what the author says is the victimization of Egypt’s Christians by a “politically engineered harmony” between the state and their own church, seeking to control their lives.

“Ways of the Lord” is a rare example of an Egyptian work of fiction whose primary characters are Christian. The result breaks stereotypes that many of the country’s Muslims hold about their minority compatriots. But it also turns the look inward, dispelling the secrecy surrounding the ancient Coptic Orthodox Church — the predominant denomination in Egypt — and addressing its controlling practices and its rivalries with smaller churches.

“Most Coptic literature is about the discrimination or oppression Christians endure with a dose of rights advocacy. That’s understandable but that is also about as far as it goes,” Botros told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from London, his home of 13 years. “This work introduces Egyptians to the reality of Copts as a people who are not always praying, singing hymns and waiting on every word from the church. The novel opens the world of Copts to both Copts and Muslims.”

The novel, the author’s first, takes on added relevance because the Coptic Church leadership has adhered closer than ever to the government. It’s an alliance that gives the community a measure of protection but has raised questions over its independence and has drawn the wrath of Islamic militants, who have over the past two years killed more than a 100 Christians in attacks.

The church’s unity is also being tested, partially over calls for it to modernize some of its rigid rules, like those governing marriage and divorce. The killing in July of the abbot of a monastery, for which two monks are on trial, has led to soul searching about the practices of monasticism, traditionally a cornerstone of the church’s identity.

The novel tells the story of a young Christian man in Cairo, Sherif, who has abandoned the church. He’s in a relationship with a German woman, but to marry her he must first get a church document. So he goes to his neighborhood priest each week for interviews that turn into confessionals.

Sherif relates a series of tales to explain to the priest why he never comes to church. He tells of his family’s past rebellions, like a grandfather who left the Coptic Church because the priest would not baptize his newborn child before her death.

As a young man, he says, he hopped from one Christian denomination to another to explore his identity. His father is cynical about his spiritual search, telling his son, “Generally, they are all con artists.”

The confession sessions with the priest are one of two plot tracks running through the novel. The other follows Sherif’s political activism, which lands him in trouble with the police. His one hope to escape jail time is to marry his girlfriend and go to Germany, but in the end, the girlfriend returns home. He spends a year in jail for a white-collar crime he did not commit.

“Sherif was painted as a character in crisis and that’s not just on account of being a member of a minority, but rather as someone facing an existential crisis over his problems with the church and the state,” said literary critic Ahmed Shawqy Ali.

The novel ends with Sherif surrendering to the powers that crush his rebellion. Jobless after losing his government engineering job, he survives on a small income from doing little jobs for the church, while telling his stories to whoever will listen. “The ways of the Lord are strange and tough to understand,” Sheriff says of his return to the church’s embrace.

Botros said the book’s “fatalistic” ending “shows that, in a place like Egypt, religious minorities like Christians don’t have many choices.”

The church presents itself as the protector of Egypt’s Copts, and many in the community adhere to it fervently.

“The church is a peacemaker that is in harmony with everyone, from the ruling government and civil society groups to al-Azhar,” said a church spokesman, Boulis Halim, referring to the top Muslim institution in Egypt. “We cannot deny that there are shortcomings in some respects, especially the social field, but that will evolve going forward.”

But critics say the interests of individual Christians get lost under the church’s communal leadership.

Kamal Zakher, a Christian who is one of Egypt’s top experts on the Coptic Church, said the church has become a “hostage” to the government for safety, particularly since the rise of Islamic hard-liners starting in the 1970s.

It and the government leadership deal with each other directly, but “they have all forgotten that ordinary Christians deal on daily basis with bureaucrats who, like everyone else, have been influenced by that Islamic revival,” Zakher said.

Karoline Kamel, a researcher on church affairs from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, said the novel’s main character is not typical of Coptic youth, who in large part associate closely with the church. But she said the novel gets the theme of control right.

“The church’s protection is focused on itself as an institution, as walls and buildings regardless of what happens to Christians,” she said.

Mahershala Ali on ‘Green Book’: ‘It’s a legitimate offering’

Mahershala Ali on ‘Green Book’: ‘It’s a legitimate offering’

Video Courtesy of The View


Mahershala Ali’s life changed in more ways than one the week of the 2017 Oscars. Four days before he won best supporting actor for his performance in “Moonlight,” his wife, Amatus-Sami Karim, gave birth to their first child.

“When I won, all I could think about was: I just want to get home,” Ali says, grinning.

It wasn’t just Ali’s soulful, tender performance as a drug dealer in Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight” that illuminated Ali to audiences. It was his incredible poise through awards season, where he became the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar. At the Screen Actors Guild Awards, during the outcry over Donald Trump’s ban on travel from several mostly Muslim countries, he eloquently spoke about “Moonlight” and acceptance: “We see what happens when you persecute people. They fold into themselves.”

It was clear enough: Here was no flash-in-the-pan. Here was a journeyman actor of uncommon grace and dignity. And Ali’s phone started ringing.

“It changed the trajectory of my career,” Ali, 44, said in a recent interview over tea in midtown Manhattan. “It gives you permission in some way to not dream bigger but dream deeper. Like: What type of work do you really want to do?”

Ali still harbors larger aspirations, like playing boxer Jack Johnson, but this fall has provided some of the answer. Ali stars in Peter Farrelly’s road-trip drama “Green Book” and headlines the upcoming third season of HBO’s “True Detective.” And “Green Book,” now in theaters, has again catapulted Ali to the top of the supporting-actor contenders. Many believe he’s in line for another Oscar.

But this time, the road has been rockier. “Green Book,” brisk and modest, has won raves from some critics and many audiences as a feel-good story about the real-life friendship that developed when the refined concert pianist Don Shirley (Ali) hired a racist Bronx bouncer, Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen), to drive him on a 1962 tour of the Deep South. But the film has been criticized by some as an outdated, sentimentalized kind of movie, one that trades on racial tropes , perpetuates the “white savior” cliche and isn’t deserving of its namesake (a travel-survival guide for African-Americans in the Jim Crow South).

Ali grants “Green Book” is a portrait of race in America unlike one by Jenkins or Amma Asante or Ava DuVernay. But he believes the film’s uplifting approach has value.

“It’s approached in a way that’s perhaps more palatable than some of those other projects. But I think it’s a legitimate offering. Don Shirley is really complex considering it’s 1962. He’s the one in power in that car. He doesn’t have to go on that trip. I think embodied in him is somebody that we haven’t seen. That alone makes the story worthy of being told,” says Ali. “Anytime, whether it’s white writers or black writers, I can play a character with dimensionality, that’s attractive to me.”

“Green Book” was hailed as an irresistible crowd-pleaser and a major Oscar contender after its September premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it won the festival’s audience award . (And every film in the last decade to win that prize has ended up a best picture nominee.) But the $23 million-film has struggled to take off at the box office, earning $8.3 million in two weeks. Universal Pictures still has high hopes. Audiences gave it an A-plus CinemaScore and the National Board of Review on Tuesday named it the year’s best film .

Still, along the way, Ali has heard the complaints about “Green Book.” He disagrees.

“A couple of times I’ve seen ‘white savior’ comments and I don’t think that’s true. Or the ‘reverse “Driving Miss Daisy'” thing, I don’t agree with,” he says. “If you were to call this film a ‘reverse “Driving Miss Daisy,'” then you would have to reverse the history of slavery and colonialism. It would have to be all black presidents and all white slaves.”

Yet the debates over “Green Book” have put Ali in a plainly awkward position, particularly when Mortensen used the n-word at a Q&A for the film while discussing the slur’s prevalence in 1962. Mortensen quickly apologized , saying he had no right, in any context to use the word. Ali issued a statement, too, in support of Mortensen while firmly noting the word’s wrongness.

“It was challenging, especially being the lone black presence in the film and feeling responsible to address that publicly,” says Ali. “There’s a difference between racist and lacking awareness. And I think he lacked awareness in that moment of the inappropriateness of the word, even within an intellectual context like that. There’s a mini explosion that happens whenever a non-black person says that in a public setting.”

“But I love him,” Ali adds. “And we’ve talked about it more. He’s a great dude and he’s going to continue to be a great dude.”

Ali first got to know Mortensen on the awards circuit two years ago, when Mortensen was nominated for “Captain Fantastic.” The film rests on their relationship; that it works so well is a testament to their chemistry together. When cast, Mortensen’s first question to Farrelly was who was going to play Shirley.

“When Pete said Mahershala Ali, I said, ‘Well you can’t do better than that,'” Mortensen said by phone. “He’s very sensitive and extremely intelligent and thoughtful and has a real awareness of himself in any space. He’s at ease with himself. My sense of him is that he’s meticulous as an artist. There was a dynamic there based on each of us trying to help the other guy doing the best possible job that he could. It was beautiful.”

Ali grants he shares Shirley’s own fastidious nature (“I would say within reason,” he says, smiling). Farrelly adds that Ali’s precision had a hugely positive effect on “Green Book,” especially in shaping the portrayal of Shirley. “I wanted to make sure Don Shirley was equally if not more empowered,” Ali says. The actor suggested tweaks and changes to deepen the pianist’s pain at, like Nina Simone, being denied a career in classical music.

“And he did a bunch of those. He was very hands on in a good way,” Farrelly said by phone. “He and Viggo are a great balance. They’re such perfectionists in their work.”

Farrelly, best known for his broader comedies with his brother Bobby (“There’s Something About Mary”), also defended his film.

“I’m getting some crap from people saying it’s a rosy picture of race, but, you know, it’s just a rosy picture of that relationship, not all race relationships,” said Farrelly. “And it’s the truth of what happened to these two men. And that is the thing that really drew me to the project. I’m a hopeful guy. I know we’re in a dark period right now in race relations but I am hopeful.”

Ali has his own kind of optimism for “Green Book” and its place in a larger conversation.

“The disease of racism and bigotry and discrimination — there are a myriad of ways to tackle that,” Ali says. “And you need all of them.”

Sex, God, and The Single Life: Book Review

Sex, God, and The Single Life: Book Review

Sex, God, SingleThere are certain topics that scream single Christian. Sex and singleness is one of those topics. How does one life a fulfilling single, Christian life in a culture inundated with sexual imagery? Author Hafeez Baoku has entered the fray with his new project, Sex, God, and the Single Life: An Honest Journey to Satisfying Intimacy. But his work isn’t the usual “save yourself for marriage because the Bible says so” reflection on sex and the single life. It’s real. It’s transparent. It’s compelling.

A Healthy Sexuality

In the book, Hafeez speaks candidly about his own pursuit of a healthy sexuality. He recounts stories of friends giving him a distorted view of sexuality. As most of us can remember, sex education at school was a joke. Because others failed to help him develop a healthy sex ethic, Baoku admits to receiving his early sex education from Hollywood films. Who couldn’t relate to that?

The Grand Design

Hafeez then introduces the reader to God’s grand design for sex. Sex is good! God created it that way. Hafeez notes that, “Sex is the greatest physical representation of real intimacy between a man a woman” (43). Baoku also notes sin’s ability to fracture that good thing. In analyzing the cultural practices of selfish sexuality, he addresses many taboo issues, including 2-D sex (yeah, 2-D…better known as porn), friends with benefits, and no strings attached forms of expression. Offering advice to fellow singles on what it takes to become a great lover, the book dispels the myth that sex or relationships will bring us fulfillment. The single person needs to know that its “God, not sex, in whom our hearts desperately desire to be fully satisfied” (79).

Avoiding the Waiting Room

But Baoku isn’t just throwing out Christian cliches. He provides practical ways Christians can experience a joy-filled existence apart from sex. Singleness, according to Baoku, isn’t just a waiting room—hoping to get a shot of  joy with the needle labeled marriage. Rather, singles can benefit from joy-filled, intimate friendships with (even opposite-gender relationships)—something he details in Chapter 8 (which happens to be my favorite chapter in the book).

Closing Thoughts

Though I’m married, much of what Baoku writes in this book would have resonated with my single self when I was trying to determine ways to live a joyous, single life. I especially appreciated his practical steps for purity (which he also gives a fresh perspective on—it’s not your abstinence ring ceremony type common with young people).

I applaud Baoku’s recognition of his own limitations as a single male. He offers a great Q&A in the epilogue with an older, godly married couple and a young, single woman. It shows his thoughtful approach in making sure he captured information he might not be aware of as a single male. I would commend this book to singles who are thinking through issues of sexuality and intimacy. There are ways you can express your sexuality as a single that leads to God-honoring, intimate relationships. And you don’t have to be frustrated doing it. In Sex, God, and the Single Life, Baoku outlines ways to avoid that frustration.

The book releases today, July 5th, and is available for purchase on Amazon.