Black History Month 2022: Book review

Featured article - 11 October 2022
By Joanna Lenham, SCIE Practice Development Manager

Group of people

A year ago my colleague Tasnim wrote a blog for Black History Month sharing books by a number of black writers. It's encouraged me to look beyond my bookshelves to read ‘I take my coffee black’ by Tyler Merritt.

Tyler Merritt is an actor, musician, comedian and activist. He grew up in Las Vegas, a city he still loves. He is a Christian and a vegetarian. He knows every word of the musical ‘Oklahoma’. And he hates that anyone at all might possibly be afraid of him. He also knows – as a 6’2” black man with dreadlocks – that some people are indeed afraid of him. Not because of his size but because of what he calls his ‘blackness’.

In this reflection of his life, Tyler writes about two different aspects of black history.

Firstly, he shares a number of events in American history that he considers key to understanding his experience as a black man. These include:

  • How Las Vegas came to be and why that made it a diverse place to grow up
  • How the Civil War led to lynching and what that meant for black people living in the South
  • The deaths of unarmed black people at the hands of the police – 48 between 2016 and 2021.

But he also writes about his own history and the events that have had the most impact on how he has lived his life. From his first experience of racism, through navigating the gang culture of Las Vegas, becoming a musician and then a pastor, before some mistakes took him to a very low place and ultimately to his work as an activist, Tyler highlights this fundamental truth – that the more we know someone, the more empathy, understanding and compassion we will have for them. This truth is the basis for his video ‘Before you call the cops’, which went viral for the second time in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.

This book demonstrates time and again that proximity to those who are different to us, and the sharing of our stories and experiences and vulnerabilities can build connections that help challenge racism and racial injustice. Because, as Tyler writes ‘…proximity breeds empathy. And with empathy, humanity has a fighting chance’.

At SCIE we want to embrace equality, diversity and inclusion. It runs through everything we do from embracing co-production to encouraging strengths-based approaches. Tasnim and I are just two members of our EDI group and, together with other SCIE staff and trustees, are keen to occasionally share stories and experiences in blogs to encourage the discussion of EDI issues and perhaps help build the sort of connections that this book celebrates.

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