We humans

8 books to lift you out of darkness

Sep 8, 2014 /

When Shaka Senghor (Watch: Shaka Senghor: Why your worst deeds don’t define you) was nineteen, he shot and killed a man — and was sentenced to spend the second nineteen years of his life in jail. At first, Senghor sat in his cold cell and rationalized his worst deeds. “In the hood where I come from,” he says, “it’s better to be the shooter than the person getting shot.” Then, Senghor found solace in literature — and his perspective was transformed in prison.

As part of his work with BMe, a community devoted to recognizing the positive achievements of black men and boys, Senghor recently posted a message on YouTube to his “young brothers.” In his somber letter Senghor tells young black men: Despite the fact that the cards seem stacked against you, peace and solace are both possible. He describes his literary journey, starting with the fiction of Donald Goines and bringing him to Malcolm X, which helped him come to terms with his past. Alongside his talk, Senghor shared eight more of the books, from Plato to Thich Nhat Hanh, that lifted him out of darkness, and set him on his way to help other young black men choose a life less violent.

1. The Autobiography of Malcolm X
Malcolm X and Alex Haley
Ballantine Books, 1999

“This book pricked my consciousness and showed me the power of transformation and personal accountability.”

2. As a Man Thinketh
James Allen
Cosimo Classics, 2005

“This was the first book that helped me explore the idea of positive thinking and thinking into existence the future we want for ourselves.”

3. Plato: Republic
Hackett Publishing Company, 1992

“Socrates’ dialogues opened up my mind to the power of questions and examining our lives.”

4. The New Jim Crow
Michelle Alexander
The New Press, 2012

“Alexander tackles the hard-hitting issues of race, power and the historical context of the prison system. Her acute analysis of race and sentencing disparities cuts to the heart of the prison boom.”

5. The Miracle of Mindfulness
Thich Nhat Hanh
Beacon Press, 1999

“This book has been an invaluable tool during my transition back into society, reminding me to be present in the moment, even when those moments are uncomfortable.”

6. How To Be Black
Baratunde Thurston
HarperCollins, 2012

“This refreshing take on race is inspiring, insightful and funny enough to make you read it over and over.”

7. Houses of Healing
Robin Casarjian
The Lionheart Foundation, 2001

“This book guided and supported me in confronting issues I struggled with in my personal life, like child abuse, being a victim of gun violence, and drug addiction.”

8. The Prisoner’s Wife
Asha Bandele
Washington Square Press, 2000

“A very inspiring story about love and relationships that develop under dire circumstances. A beautiful expression of the human spirit and heart triumphing.”