Everybody has a story. I've carried around bits and pieces of mine in my head for decades - convinced I would commit at least a portion of it to paper some day. The Return of the African Diaspora series is probably the closest I'll ever come to writing my story. I've intertwined my protagonist's character with some of my own traits; although snippets of the story came from candid conversations I had with strangers on late-night flights, mixed in with tales and exploits of people I have known for years. All of it is bundled together in a way that only my closest friends and relatives are likely to recognize those parts that are from of my own life's journey.
Safe Haven in a Small College Town
Coming of age in Tuskegee during the tumultuous '60s was an experience like none other, making the small town a natural backdrop for portions of my books. Back in the day, Tuskegee was a shining example for the rest of Black America. We had endless role models to choose from who had all empowered themselves and taken full control of their destiny. As violence ran rampant in the southern United States, our college town of less that 12,000 proved itself to be a safe haven for its predominantly Black citizens. The sanctuary was made possible by a former slave who convinced white politicians to fund the "Negro Normal School in Tuskegee," in exchange for voter support in their re-election bids. Life for Blacks there was a sharp contrast to the realm of terror that had become the norm for Blacks living in other parts of the South, after reconstruction ended and federal troops were recalled. It took nearly a hundred years before Tuskegee's serenity was finally penetrated by post-Civil war violence. In 1966, as students of all colors and religions began to play central roles in the fight for equal protection under U.S. laws, we tearfully mourned the loss of our own "fallen son - Sammy Younge Jr." Ironically, the town's reputation for being "first" continued even in our loss; Sammy bore the dubious distinction of being the first college student to die in the Civil Rights Movement. Aside from that disturbing tragedy, we remained largely unaffected by the perpetual violence that surrounded our small community for years.
The majority of us made the expected progression from high school to our college just down the street, our ranks swelling as promising Black students from all over the nation joined us. Discrimination didn't intimidate us because one of our college professors had appealed groundbreaking gerrymandering laws argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, successfully thwarting white lawmakers attempts to dilute the Black vote. We shared the birthplace of a civil rights icon whose brave action had become the catalyst for ending discrimination around the world, and we had friends whose fathers were fighter pilots during World War II. While the Skegee Spirit of my generation's accomplishments upped the ante significantly for the generations to follow. We added internationally renown rock stars and songwriters (country music no less) to the list of American high achievers; along with nationally acclaimed radio personalities and philanthropists; award winning comedians; Olympic level athletes and coaches; the creative inventor of a toy that has literally 'soaked' millions; a nationally recognized sex therapist; and the list goes on.
Hooked on Politics
Politics has played an important role in Tuskegee since its inception, after Lewis Adams first delivered the promised Black vote. I inherited my love of politics from my father and spent my childhood glued in front of the television set with him, watching democratic and republican parties nominate their candidates for U.S. presidential elections. Armed with a B.S. degree in Political Science, I marched courageously to the nation's capital after graduation, to help manage the U.S. House of Representative's Legislative Information Office on Capitol Hill. (Okay, I really caught a ride to D.C. in a friend's nice comfortable van, but I'm sure you get my point.) As a safeguard to my son's health made worse by the climate in Washington, I eventually made my way back South again. Later, I had the honor of helping constituents in the Atlanta district office of Congressman John Lewis - another giant of the Civil Rights Movement - navigate through a maze of federal issues that affected the "tired and the poor."
Later still, I landed a position assisting the Ghanaian executive whose pioneering and creative genius brought integrated state-of-the-art wireless telecommunications to sub-Saharan Africa. Once again, my desire to connect with the Motherland was stirred until I finally made my pilgrimage to Ghana in 2002. Not unlike my protagonist, my life changed dramatically during my visit to the slave castles along the Gulf of Guinea. I was inspired to take up my pen as Return of the African Diaspora – a two part series - began to evolve in my head.
As I listened to President Obama's address before the Ghanaian Parliament during his historic visit in 2009, I became more convinced than ever that my protagonist's vision of healing the relationship between the Diaspora in America and Mother Africa may yet become a reality.