Tag Archives: Books

Love and responsibility are keys to the Covenant

By James Ewers


 Tavis Smiley’s “The Covenant With Black America” has been out a couple of years and it, along with the the companion book entitled “The Covenant in Action,” is a must read if you are interested in grass roots change.  As many of you will recall, Tavis Smiley had a talk show with Black Entertainment Television some years ago.  He parted ways with BET and went on to distinguish himself in public television and public radio along with being a regular contributor to the Tom Joyner Morning Show.  It is my thinking that this book, The Covenant, rose out of The State of The Black Union, of which Smiley is keenly involved. This day long program had its beginning in 2000 and has been going strong ever since that time. The premise of the program is to extol black people to take responsibility for their lives in all areas. 


Many African Americans like me grew up in an unequal South yet we never felt unequal.  Growing up in Winston-Salem, N.C., I always thought that I would be successful at something; I just didn’t know what that would be.  This attitude and belief of success that I had I must firmly attribute to my mom and dad.  I have no doubt in my mind that had it not been for God and for my parents, I would have been a statistic, a bad one. 


Early on in The Covenant, we are issued a clarion call by Marian Wright Edelman, leader of the Children’s Defense Fund.  She writes, “Black children are disproportionately denied a fair chance and are disproportionately poor. An un-level playing field from birth contributes to many black children getting pulled into a cradle-to-prison-to-death pipeline that we must dismantle if the clock of racial and social progress is to not turn backwards.”  Some will argue with the veracity of Wright Edelman’s statements.  However the question for many of us is, how do we prepare our children to face this world?  Marian Wright Edelman in her statement of purpose says, “The Covenant With Black America calls upon all parents, educators, preachers, social service providers, community leaders and policy-makers to act now and create a brighter future for our children.”  If you are in the aforementioned group, you are on call 365 days a year.


This book has ten specific covenants and they are as follows:  Covenant I: Securing The Right To Healthcare and Well-Being, Covenant II: Establishing A System Of Public Education In Which All Children Achieve At High Levels and Reach Their Full Potential, Covenant III: Correcting The System of Unequal Justice, Covenant IV: Fostering Accountable Community-Centered Policing, Covenant V: Ensuring Broad Access To Affordable Neighborhoods That Connect to Opportunity, Covenant VI: Claiming Our Democracy, Covenant VII: Strengthening Our Rural Roots, Covenant VIII: Accessing Good Jobs, Wealth, and Economic Prosperity, Covenant IX: Assuring Environmental Justice For All and Covenant X: Closing The Racial Digital Divide.  My reasoning for going to great length to list each covenant is simply that it may compel you to go out and purchase this book or to check it out at your local library.  My hope is that there will be such a groundswell that library officials will have to order several copies of the book.  Please prove me right!


There are throughout the book some themes that resonate, self-love and personal responsibility chief among them. Loving yourself is the key to loving others.  It is impossible to give love when you don’t have love.  While it may sound simplistic, self-love leads to a healthy self-concept which then brings on a can-do attitude.  One of the most over-used expressions at least since I have been around is “your attitude determines your altitude.”  Attitude and love go together. While some may disagree, we cannot wallow and fester in blame as this mindset has already destroyed many of us.  We use it as an excuse not to achieve our goals and our dreams.  We can do better and we must! 


In Covenant II, Edmund G. Gordon says, “Education starts at home, in neighborhoods, and in communities. Reading to children, creating time and space for homework and demonstrating through words and deeds that education is important are the key building blocks for high education attainment.”  It is hard to disagree with this statement.  There are many school systems across the country that are becoming more parent-friendly.  Parents, love providers and schools need one another.  When all of us get that message we will be better off.  As parents, we must make ourselves viable, visible and valuable in our schools.


So as you get ready for summer, pick up this book because it does provide you with a blueprint for what needs to be done.  Pass this message on, and as Tavis Smiley always says, “keep the faith.”

The Most Important Books to Randall Kennedy

By Alfred Brophy

The current issue of Newsweek features Harvard Law Professor Randall Kennedy. It talks about the five most important books to him. Pretty intriguing list. Professor Kennedy writes:

1. “The American Political Tradition” by Richard Hofstadter. It ignited my interest in history.

2. “Black Boy” by Richard Wright. It indelibly imprinted on me the horrors my grandparents and parents faced as blacks in the pre-civil-rights Deep South.

3. “Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877” by Eric Foner. A magnificent scholarly edifice.

4. “Our Undemocratic Constitution” by Sanford Levinson. A fearless examination of the Constitution by one of the most adventurous (and overlooked) U.S. intellectuals.

5. “Four Quartets” by T. S. Eliot. Because it contains the poem “East Coker,” in which one finds the lines: “For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.”

As I say, it’s an intriguing list. I need to think about what would be on my top five–perhaps we’d overlap in Foner’s Reconstruction–a brilliant and sweeping book. When I first read it I couldn’t even begin to imagine how one person could have the knowledge to write such a comprehensive book.

I’d probably include C. Vann Woodward’s Strange Career of Jim Crow and Morton Horwitz’ Transformation of American Law, 1780-1860 and maybe G. Edward White’s Marshall Court and Cultural Change, because it gave me a sense of how to combine cultural and intellectual history with legal thought. Wright’s Black Boy is a fabulous volume, of course; but for me Ellison’s Invisible Man was more influential, because it lead me to understand the response of African American intellectuals to Jim Crow. And it’s the source of the title of one of my current projects, “The Great Constitutional Dream Book.” Really small tidbits are here and here. And there’s some more in the first chapter of Reconstructing the Dreamland.

If we’re talking about articles and essays that have influenced us, I would add Kennedy’s “Race Relations Law and the Tradition of Celebration: The Case of Professor Schmidt,” which appeared in the Columbia Law Review back in 1986.

Alfred Brophy