I just finished Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward and I don’t know where to begin. This is a book so honest and raw, it made me want to scream in anger and cry in sadness and shame.
Ward is an amazing author and I loved her novel Salvage the Bones so was eager to read her memoir. In it she tells the stories of the men in her family and her community who were lost. Lost mostly as a result of being young, black men in a society where they are repeatedly told and made to feel that “you are nothing.”
The chapters alternate from the individual stories of the boys who were lost – to murder, to suicide or in an accident – to the history of her family and Ward’s memories of growing up in Mississippi. There are so many parts of this book I want to quote here for her writing is ripe with beauty and truth.
I read parts of this memoir as I flew to a vacation in New Orleans and I entered that city angry and irritated. I think the stories of Ward and the boys of her southern Mississippi DeLisle and Pass Christian neighborhoods played a part. It saddens me that we continue to live in a world where an entire race is treated as less than and repeatedly ignored resulting in little opportunity and rampant poverty. I work in a school in a challenged neighborhood in Philadelphia and I watch this story repeated in a different geographic location, but sadly with an often similar ending.
In the last chapter, Ward writes: Once, they lived. We tried to outpace the thing that chased us, that said: You are nothing. we tried to ignore it, but sometimes we caught ourselves repeating what history said, mumbling along, brainwashed: I am nothing. We drank too much, smoked too much, were abusive to ourselves, to each other. We were bewildered. There is a great darkness bearing down on our lives, and no one acknowledges it.
A few paragraphs later she says: Hello. We are here. Listen.
And I want to say thank you to Jesmyn Ward for writing these stories. For sharing them despite the messages that you are nothing. I am listening. I am glad you are here.