When I recommend books to patrons, I don't normally recommend the latest book. I normally recommend the books that I keep going back to. This book isn't a classic, but I've probably read it 3 times. Annie's Ghosts: A Journey into a Family Secret is the true story of Steve Luxenberg's journey to find out about his mother's sister, a sister that his mother only revealed upon her deathbed. The book is Steve's journey to learn more about this aunt, condemned to a mental institution, and the family her never spoke of her. Luxenberg explores life in 1940s and 1950s Detroit and in Eloise, the institution to which is Aunt was committed.
Jameel McGee and Andrew Collins visited the Powell branch in 2016 for the Embracing Forgiveness program. In 2017, they published Convicted: A Crooked Cop, an Innocent Man, and an Unlikely Journey of Friendship and Forgiveness.
Andrew was a dirty cop in Benton Harbor who caused Jameel McGee, a completely innocent man, to be arrested and imprisoned. Andrew employed many dishonest and illegal shortcuts in order to more easily obtain search warrants, make arrests stick, and skim from confiscated money. He did these things because he believed he was doing his part to clean up the city, and thought he had earned the right to do so. The book's chapters alternate between Andrew and Jameel's perspectives. I have a powerful quote from Jameel's reflections while in prison that I want to share with you: "I'd spent so much time being angry at everyone who put me here...I had to stop blaming everyone else and spending all my time being consumed by anger and a desire for revenge. All anger had done so far was turn me into someone I didn't like, someone I did not want to be," (107).
Jameel brings up a key point here. Both men saw the need to change their ways because they didn't like who they had become. Andrew never envisioned that his childhood dream to become a cop would warp into a corrupt, self-serving role. Jameel saw how his anger affected him and sought a new path. The two also found religion, and that helped pave the way for their new outlooks. I have to commend both men. Andrew admitted he was wrong and tried to amend his errors. We all know how hard it is to admit when we're wrong and to openly and sincerely apologize for it. Jameel was dealt a bad hand but chose to forgive and move forward. The story inspires even more so once Jameel and Andrew meet after the main events of the book and develop not only a working relationship, but a friendship. I highly encourage you to check out this amazing story.
Tail Captured, Red Tail Free: Memoirs of a Tuskegee Airman and POW is
Lt. Col. Alexander Jefferson’s account of becoming a Tuskegee Airman, and getting
shot down over Germany during his 19th mission on August 12th,
1944. He was taken to a prisoner of war camp, and was held captive until April
29th, 1945. Jefferson writes about growing up in segregated Detroit
and tells how his fascination with aviation influenced his education. He talks
about training to become a Tuskegee Airman and his missions overseas. He
discusses his experience as a prisoner of war, and also details his life and
career after the war.
The most interesting part for me was
reading about how many barriers stood in the way of black men to join the Army
Air Corps, because no one wanted black men to have the chance to prove they
were as intelligent and capable of flying as white pilots. Women faced similar
obstacles, as I read about in WASPs: Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War
II by Vera S. Williams. Jefferson writes:
“On September 23, 1942, I was sworn into the Army Reserves.
I immediately volunteered for flight training but was told to return home and
wait for a position to open up. When I asked when this would be, I was told not
to worry about it. I wasn’t sure I would ever be called, but at least being in
the reserves kept me from being drafted. At the time, I didn’t understand what
was going on, but I later learned there was a rigid quota restricting how many
blacks could be inducted each month into the training program at Tuskegee,”
Even if someone made it into the program, it was unlikely
that he would graduate. The government made sure that only a small percentage
of cadets graduated.
“We cadets were all college graduates…there were 90 of us
who started…by the end of our nine months of training, only 25 of us had
survived. Some were eliminated for flying inadequacies, and some for
non-military reasons. Years later, through the Freedom of Information Act, we
discovered there had been a quota for how many blacks were allowed to graduate.
The phrase used to wash guys out was “eliminated while passing for the
convenience of the government,” (26).
Like many black veterans, and talented individuals of color
in many industries, Jefferson was not officially recognized for his achievement
and sacrifice by the government until much later on in life. He received the
Purple Heart in 2001 and collected other prestigious awards too. Of course, his
induction into the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame at the Kalamazoo Aviation Museum
(now known as the Air Zoo) in 1995 stood out for me among his honors.
We were researching where to vacation in Michigan and came upon this TV clip about Beaver Island. I was intrigued to learn more about lesser-known places in Michigan, so I sought out Under the Radar Michigan’s website. The TV show takes viewers all around MI to places both quirky and not quirky, but just worthy of getting to know. The series will be coming to KPL’s DVD collection this summer. In the meanwhile, check out the companion book to the show.
Each chapter corresponds to the episode of the same number. Sometimes they go to opposite sides of the state in one episode. Other times they zero in on a region-- as with chapter 45, the “West-Side Mitten Adventure”-- or a theme such as the “Michigan Festivals Special” (ch. 26.) The indexes enable you to find specific sites, cities, and regions covered in the book. Kalamazoo is featured more than once, and the Kalamazoo places listed in the book are brag-worthy. I learned about some businesses I had not known, as well as more about places already familiar to me in our community.
Check it out and start planning your next trip!