NDG Book Review: ‘My Seven Black Fathers’ Is A Mentor’s Motivation

By Terri Schlichenmeyer

Studies show that “a stay-at-home dad matters to his black son,” no matter his income or what his neighborhood looks like. Even a father figure works: Jawando says he’s the man he is today thanks to the ‘black men I had access to through my mother’s work and where I went to school’ .

His stepfather, Joseph Jacob, gave Jawando his “Black American identity.” His fourth grade teacher, Mr Williams – the first black teacher he had ever seen – taught him respect and respectability. His mother’s co-worker, Jay Fletcher, a gay man, taught Jawando that showing vulnerability was necessary to be “whole”.

Coach Wayne Holmes showed him how to succeed. Deen Sanwoola, a friend and mentor, gave Jawando a “perspective” on his “Nigerian identity”. Barack Obama, with whom Jawando worked, showed Jawando his “birthmark” in his unconventional name. And from his own biological father, once they reconnected and traveled together in Nigeria, he found forgiveness and understanding.

“Now the healing could begin,” Jawando said. “All it took was a four thousand mile journey together.”

Sit down and pay attention.

This is what “My Seven Black Fathers” asks you to do. It oozes gratitude and grace, it shines with anger and calm, and, as author Will Jawando tells his story, he asks you to be careful.

It’s not hard to do. Jawando’s childhood, which he recounts in detail, resembles that of many black boys, but with one difference: Seven black men volunteered their time to help educate him, which he says is not doesn’t happen to many children.

And yet, despite its benefits, getting the mentorship has sometimes been a struggle – a surprising point that surfaces but isn’t explored, nor is Jawando’s reasoning for why it matters. Like any good storyteller, he tells, then lets his story linger, leaving an impression you’ll come back to, time and time again.

It should come as no surprise that “My Seven Black Fathers” might also inspire you to mentor a child, or get involved in some way with a child’s life now or soon. In the meantime, this memoir about being a black man has a lot to offer.

On the way to the bookstore or library, pick up “Daddy Speaks Love” by Leah Henderson, illustrated by EB Lewis. This is a nice picture book for children aged 3 to 5 about the love between father and child.

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