Dear Black Boy is a book written by Martellus Bennett. If the name sounds familiar, it is because Mr. Bennett was a pro-NFL Tight End and played for some of the top teams in the NFL including the NY Giants, the Dallas Cowboys and two stints with this year’s Superbowl Champions, the New England Patriots.
The book is based in part on a letter of inspiration written on the tragic deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling — both stories that raised tension and awareness regarding Black males, law enforcement, and the all too often tragic consequences when both cross paths. Many within the Black community agonized over the news reporting and the lack of what many felt was an appropriate response or “justice” in both cases. With so many cases like these turning up in the news of late, it motivated Mr. Bennett to write an open letter to young boys of color to try and encourage them and uplift them when the environment at the time made it felt more like a detriment to be young, Black, and male.
This letter entitled “Dear Black Boy”, is aimed directly at young Black boys, and is reminiscent of a Vince Lombardi half time locker room speech or “winning one for the gipper”. This should surprise no one really that Mr. Bennett channels sports and coaching imagery to uplift and encourage young boys and exhort them to follow their dreams no matter what.
Written to inspire young boys to dream bigger and not to let their imaginations fall short of being the best they can be, the original letter went viral, and it was a no-brainer to find a way to expand on the message and put it out there for mass public consumption.
Given the current state of affairs in this country and the incessant noise and turmoil surrounding many Black youths, this book is a welcome voice of encouragement in a place that for many had nothing but silence and fear. There are so many of our youth that are not positioned in environments that provide encouragement.
Dear Black Boy has words couched in a vernacular that kids can relate to and sports metaphors that are easy to comprehend and read. The book allows one to escape this mortal coil and feel encouraged and valued. Something arguably missing in many of the lives of today’s youth.
This work and effort are not so far off the beaten path for Mr. Bennett. He started The Imagination Agency in 2014, which is a multimedia company devoted to creating interactive content for children of color. This includes the launching of the Hey AJ series with the “Hey AJ It’s Saturday and Hey AJ It’s Bedtime” in conjunction with a mobile app and a pretty neat website chock full of related content and merchandise.
We cannot let ourselves forget that once upon a time is not the only way that stories should start. Once upon a time we were told not to look to sports figures as role models. Once upon another time, there were very few, if any, books that had characters about us or that looked like us. As we continue forward with the understanding of not only what was but what is to come — we welcome and look forward to the efforts of those like Martellus Bennett and his team to produce content that allows all children to understand how important the dreams and imaginations of all children are.
It may not solve world peace, and no it may not cause the gangs to put down their weapons, but the atmosphere of working towards the greater goal will resonate with some and certainly stick with some more. The words and the wonderfully rendered graphics allow for feeling more at ease and comfort than some other literary works may be able to achieve. Is it not infinitely easier to relate to what feels familiar and comfortable?
In the end, if we can reach and affect change, it’s certainly better than to not even have tried. Worst-case scenario, you may just create an avid reader. I’m thinking in the world we are living in right now, that would not be such a bad thing.