Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Makes Me Wanna Holler by Nathan McCall

Nathan McCall had a life that few people would envy. He grew up in a working class neighborhood in Hampton, Virginia. Cavalier Manor was not a housing project. Nor was it a place for the unemployed. It was a place where the African Americans who were members of the working poor could begin to realize a dream. McCall moved to the Cavalier Manor when he was a small child with his mother, step-father, and two brothers. The youngest, McCall would quickly learn the ways of the streets because although Cavalier Manor itself was not a bad neighborhood, trouble was not far away.

McCall had early lessons in fighting and sticking up for oneself. His parents opted to send him to a better middle school, one that was being integrated, because they believed the experience would be good for him. It was anything but good for him. McCall learned that he had to put on a facade to make other people leave him alone, or he was tormented. Seeing how miserable he was, his parents finally allowed him to return to an all-black school, but McCall was already headed down a path to trouble. He became involved in questionable juvenile behavior and then turned to a life of crime before being arrested for robbing a restaurant when he was 19.

Sent to prison for three years, McCall had plenty of time to think about his life. In fact, it was in prison that he caught a break. Despite the trouble, McCall had always been a decent student. Before he was arrested, he had completed one year of college. That put him in the position in prison to serve as the prison librarian. That task was envied among inmates because it gave so much freedom, and the lesson that McCall learned was that a little education was helpful.

He set out trying to correct his life path. He started reading and discovered many empowering books, such as The Autobiography of Malcolm X. He located a professor at Norfolk State and began to write him. McCall eventually received a scholarship to attend college and earned his degree when he left prison. That life would not leave him, however, and he would keep many of the lessons that he learned with him.

When McCall left, he had found Islam. He followed as a member of the Nation of Islam without question. After a couple of years, McCall grew weary with what he felt was a desire to worry about smaller issues, such as the commandment not to eat pork, in favor of larger, more important social and cultural issues.

McCall eventually began writing for the Atlanta Constitution (now Atlanta Journal-Constitution). He landed a prized gig at the Washington Post but found that his past still followed him. He was always going to be a felon to some people, despite what he did. That thought motivated McCall to prove other people wrong. He wrote Makes Me Wanna Holler to show people that he was not the person they thought and that his life was far more complicated than others might imagine.

The highly acclaimed book won McCall many awards and much praise. He now teaches at Emory University in the journalism school and has followed up his first book with two more that delve deeper into the social issues he touched upon in Makes Me Wanna Holler.

This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand urban youth. Its subtitle, Growing Up Poor and Black in America, sums up exactly the message McCall wants to get across to his readers. The best part is that he does not come out looking perfect. He made mistakes, and he readily acknowledges that. In fact, the reader may not even like McCall. It is not necessary to like him to appreciate how far he has come and to begin to understand some of the social forces, far beyond the control of a young boy in Virginia, that shaped his life.

McCall should be on your reading list if you are interested in expanding your worldview or if you are a young black man who wants to gain some perspective about your life. McCall will help you do just that.

By Julia Mercer

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