Monday, January 24, 2011

Hue-manity

We exited the subway at 125th Street and St. Nicholas Place, winding our way toward 2319 Frederick Douglass Boulevard. Nestled humbly on one of Harlem’s main throughfares, mere steps from the historic Apollo Theatre, was the Hue-Man Bookstore, our destination for the day.

Hue-Man is one of the United States’ premier African-American bookstores, a home to books “about people of color, or books of interest to people of color, and the diaspora.” On its shelves are classic works of poetry by Langston Hughes and Nikki Giovanni, but also stories by Amiri Baraka and the perhaps notorious Zane, along with more mainstream titles like a cookbook from  the Today Show. Hue-Man caters to many ethnicities, though, with titles in not only Diaspora Studies, but Native American and Latin American Studies.

The success of Hue-Man can largely be attributed to current Hue-Man CEO Marva Allen. When Allen retired from running a multi-million dollar tech firm, she moved to Harlem, wrote two books and tried to get this little bookstore to sell them. She ended up becoming a partner in the bookstore instead and eventually made it a large part of the African-American literary community.

According to Hue-Man, the store “is the must-visit destination for any writer looking to reach an audience of color.” This holds true with in-store visits and readings from the likes of Pam Grier, Damon Wayans, Melvin Van Peebles, and many more.

Their book is on the bottom row, all the way to the right
(and we're in the background).
On Saturday, NP and I happily attended an in-store visit and reading at Hue-Man by our friend Sean Roker and his mother Cathleen Williams. They co-wrote and recently published a book entitled “Single Mother: The New Father,” addressing challenges single mothers face when raising a son. The first book is about the role of sports in a son’s life, and what mothers can do to fill the void of a father within the sports world.

I had never met Ms. Williams before, but when I first saw her, the only word I could use to describe her was “glowing.” There was a twinkle in her eye, a shine on her lips, skin, and chocolate-raspberry colored hair. She looked like someone inspiring, someone you would want to know. It would turn out that not only did she look like someone inspiring, she really was someone inspiring.

Cathleen Williams is not only a registered nurse and an attorney, but is also a writer, a talk show host, a personal and professional development coach; she runs an online magazine, is the New York State Regional Co-coordinator for International Men's Day, co-chairperson of the 2010 Fatherhood Forum at the Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral in New York City. Oh, and she’s a single mom. No big.

Except just thinking about it makes me tired.

Cathleen speaks eloquently and passionately about educating single mothers to be the best mothers for their sons possible. After she reads pure honesty from her book, numerous members of the audience share their experiences with single motherhood, either as children or as mothers. They talk about the importance of a parent being present at an athletic event, the support of a parent, the direction a parent needs to give a child. I realize that the book is not just about sports, but about how to be a better parent, single or otherwise. People tend to take parenthood for granted, I think—that somehow once you have a child you just “know” everything you need to know. But it’s really not that way at all. There’s no Parenting 101 class. You learn by making mistakes, mostly. Until books like “Single Mother: The New Father” come along and tell parents how to be parents. It’s advice from someone who has lived the life already, no mistake-making on the reader’s end required.

Cathleen has done a good job, too, as far as I can tell. Sean is smart, funny, overall a good kid. I mean, let’s be real—how often does someone co-write a book? (Sorry if I’m making you blush, kiddo). Cathleen’s advice seems to be nothing if not tried and true.

I remember one of the speakers who introduced Cathleen said that a book is the best way to get your voice to a larger audience. So it was no accident then that she and Sean would be speaking in a bookstore dedicated to making a difference, seeking to educate and inform its community. Sitting there in Hue-Man, I further understood the importance of Cathleen and Sean’s book and of the bookstore itself. Say what you will about clich├ęs, but the reality is that knowledge is power.

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