The title, Looking Back to Move Forward, evokes an inevitable comparison to the Akan word "Sankofa," from Ghana, West Africa. The word means "looking back."
It's an apt comparison. For Kelvin, his adult values first took shape when he was a child growing in Durham's sprawling Hayti District, Hayti, pronounced HAY-teye. The area is often lauded as a mecca for African Americans during the days of Jim Crow. Kelvin however, painfully recalls a world cloistered in shame, insecurity and despair ... a place where the impoverished conditions that existed had more in common with a Third World country than the southern part of the United States.
It's a time many of us who grew up poor in the segregated South can identify with.
Indeed, reading the opening pages of the book prompted me to recall my own childhood. My grandmother too, washed my siblings and me in a tin "foot tub" because we did not have the luxury of a real bathtub. We, too, lived in a neighborhood consumed with alcoholism, domestic violence and decrepit homes where children drank out of food cans instead of cups and glasses. The dysfunction we contended with was so commonplace we thought it was normal.
Kelvin De'Marcus Allen managed to survive the psychological and spiritual damage of poverty, an indifferent father and racism. Like Parks, he credits his achievements to a mother "whose personal testimony inspired you to conquer the impossible."
In Dubois' "The Souls Of Black Folk," there is an African American's double-souled self. From the harrowing effects of slavery and segregation an entire race is born with a "veil, the seventh son of the races," and thus was blessed with second sight.
But, the veil also blocked the African American's sight and strivings, permitting him to see himself reflected only secondhand, "through the revelation of the other world," the world of whites. Thus the veil was a tragic gift, the mythic rendering of the color line.
Looking Back to Move Forward advances Dubois's thesis by plumbing the politics of collective and personal memory. That is, the collective memory of a people and also the memory of personal experience.
Kelvin De'Marcus Allen asserts that the African-American must rend the veil to simultaneously "overcome" a historically racist society while confronting our personal histories in order to "become" truly liberated.
The author is not bitter. Instead, those harsh childhood lessons enriched his spirit and sharpened his perception.
"You already have everything you need," his mother told him.
Looking Back to Move Forward is a slim volume with a big message.
From the ranks of the survivors, a new leader emerges.
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.60(d)|
About the Author
Kelvin grew up as the "bastard child," the beleaguered fruit of a poor, single mother, and a father who treated him as if he were invisible. One of seven children, the struggling family lived in a rundown, wood-frame house with plumbing so bad the family often had to relieve themselves in a hole in the backyard.
W.E.B. Dubois' "The Souls Of Black Folk" and Gordon Park's "The Learning Tree" come to mind while reading Kelvin's slim elegant volume. Some may think the comparison is a stretch - Dubois. The "agitator-prophet," and Parks, the quintessential Renaissance man, are two of America's greatest heroes - perhaps Kelvin's greatest work is yet to come.
Kelvin De'Marcus Allen is a graduate of North Carolina Central University in Durham, N.C., and holds a Master of Arts degree in Leadership & Liberal Studies from Duquesne University.
Read an Excerpt
For most of us, life involves an assortment of twists and turns, upward and downward spirals and, of course, plenty of ordinary, less than memorable occurrences that cause our lives to seem stagnant or predetermined.
Yet, memories of some experiences never leave us. They are haunting visuals that carry with them lasting life lessons and humility to boot. Perhaps those are the ones that inspire us to follow our dreams and that push us to accomplishments beyond our wildest imagination.
For me, those memories are centered on the small house my family lived in on the edge of Durham's infamous Hayti district. I didn't perceive our house as small back then. As a matter of fact, it was probably pretty big compared to some dwellings in and around our neighborhood. The problem as I remember it was its deteriorating condition.
The antiquated plumbing system made relieving yourself in a hole in the back yard seem the normal thing to do.
Frozen pipes in the winter were common, and plenty of empty milk jugs and buckets were always on hand for the trip next door to our landlords' house to collect water for cooking, bathing and drinking. Their home, a large, two-story stone structure sat prominently in the midst of the other dilapidated wood-frame houses they owned.
The patriarch of the family was a professor at what was then North Carolina College. He was a proud, portly man, with a round, childlike face, eyes slanted slightly, and hair that was black and straight.
He and his mother owned and managed a dozen or so houses much like the one in which we lived.
I've never known how they managed to accumulate so much more than the average "Negro," but I suppose like Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth and George Washington Carver, they apparently raised themselves, by sheer will and fortitude, above all that was against them.
I don't know why, but I remember distinctly the green garden hose they'd connect to their kitchen sink, and then hurl outside to my brothers, sisters and me, where we stood trembling in the cold.
The water hauled over from our landlords' house never made it to a bathtub. We didn't have one. In fact, I don't remember taking a bath in an actual tub until much later. A bath for me consisted of standing in a large tin tub, with my mother scrubbing me down next to the wood-burning stove. I'm sure my sister Carolyn still bears the mark of getting a little too close to that old, rusty stove during one of her nightly scrub-downs.
When I think back to those early years of my life, they remind me of how far I've come and of a place where I'd never like to go again. But more than that, those early memories have become the source of countless morality stories for my children, and for close friends who've lost their way and forgotten how far they've come.
Unfortunately, whether things will get that bad again is not totally in my control. But that's OK. Perhaps it's even a good thing. I feel blessed to not only have such humbling memories, I'm especially grateful for the sense of humility that those memories have inspired in me.