The Universal Academy for the College Bound (UACB) High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin is launching a City-Wide Community Engagement book club for youth and adult mentors and has chosen several Penguin Random House titles for the inaugural program: Jay Z’s Decoded (Spiegel & Grau), Wes Moore’s The Other Wes Moore (Spiegel & Grau), and Shaka Senghor’s Writing My Wrongs (Convergent Books).
In total, the school’s English department selected eleven fiction and nonfiction titles by African American authors that, according to their press release, “highlight Social Justice issues that parallel youth’s lives across the city, poverty, homelessness, and being raised in single-parent households.” UACB is led by Universal Companies, the only African American charter school management company in the country, and aims to promote literacy, increase reading ability, and provide mentorship opportunities for its students through the book club program by exposing them to books that they can relate to.
Decoded is an innovative book by rapper Jay Z—a twenty-one-time Grammy Award-winning artist and performer, entrepreneur, and a talented writer and author. His book delves into his lyrics, but is more than simply explanatory; rather, his words provide insight into his early years in Brooklyn, his evolution as an artist, and his drive to succeed while pushing the boundaries of rap conventions.
The Other Wes Moore is a powerful memoir in which author Wes Moore writes about a childhood neighbor who shared his name—both had difficult upbringings and grew up fatherless in the same Baltimore neighborhood, yet the author ends up becoming a Rhodes Scholar and decorated veteran while the other Wes Moore serves a life sentence as a convicted murderer. His investigation into just how this happened raises timely questions about race in our society.
Broaching similar topics is Writing My Wrongs, the inspiring tale of author Shaka Senghor and how he turned his life around after being sent away to prison at age nineteen. As a young man in Detroit during the crack epidemic of the 1980s, Senghor was a promising honor roll student who became entangled in drug dealing and other illegal activities, but this memoir is the story of what came next. After servinga nineteen-year sentence, Senghor emerged a changed man and dedicated his life to mentoring young men and women to ensure that they not repeat his mistakes. His story boldly and bravely illuminates the toll poverty and violence take on young people and the ways in which our society as a whole must step up to address these systemic problems.
We were also pleased to learn that Writing My Wrongs is being incorporated into the curriculum at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Indiana as part of a team-taught class for seniors. The course is designed to challenge students who will soon be graduating to evaluate and consider the ethics they will carry on with them to their lives beyond college. The professors who will be teaching the course were drawn to Senghor’s powerful road to redemption and hope to use the memoir to foster conversations about racism and the American prison system.
Are you using our books to inspire students and change lives? We’d love to hear your story, so feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to share how your curriculum is engaging students and creating great conversations.