Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Black Men Read & Discuss Books . . . The Renaissance Men's Book Club . . .

Johnnie Mosley,
North Branch Youth Librarian and
Moderator of the
Renaissance Men's Book Club
in Memphis, Tn
*from Lori's Picture Collection*

As I've mentioned before on this blog, I find it difficult to buy into the notion that Black men don't read. I owe, in part, my own reading habit to my father who regularly fed my craving for the written word.

When I was a little girl, I'd often sit by the window and wait for my dad to come home from work. Truth be known, it wasn't so much that I missed him or was all that hyped to see him (smile), I was much more interested in what he'd brought home with him. If I spotted the right sized bag, I'd smile in ready anticipation of the new Jet, Ebony, Black Stars, Sepia Magazine, Reader's Digest or National Geographic, I knew was about to be added to our family's sizeable collection.
Quite naturally, I ended up marrying a man who reads and in turn giving birth to a little boy who, when he's not engaged in some sporting activity, has his nose stuck in a book.
So when I met Johnnie Mosley, 17 or so years ago, the fact that he read, didn't surprise me all that much. After all, like myself, at the time, he was gainfully employed at our city's public library. But I can't say that I would have ever guessed that years later Johnnie would be heading up a men's book club--nor, do I imagine, did he ever think he'd be reading and leading a discussion about one of my books (smile).

The Renaissance Men's Book Club 0f Memphis, TN meets on the third Saturday of the month at the city's North Branch Library. The group boasts a membership of 25 members, ranging in ages from 21 to 60 and has been active since 2003. In honor of my upcoming teleconference with the club (and the branch's women's book club), I convinced my old friend Johnnie to address a few questions about the club, as well as one of his other community projects, in which he's actively involved, the Citizens For Better Services' Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Award Program.

Lori: Tell me a bit about the Renaissance Men's Book Club. Johnnie Mosley: The Renaissance Men's Book Club is composed of role models, gentlemen from both blue collar and white collar jobs. Besides meeting once a month, these men are involved in a number of community service organizations. I often call on members of the club to participate in career day, rap sessions and other mentoring programs at schools around the city of Memphis. We are a major force in the Memphis community. The Renaissance Men get a lot of invitations to talk with young people about the importance of reading throughout the city of Memphis.

Lori: How do you choose your books? Johnnie Mosley: We make suggestions ourselves. We also seek suggestions from the general public. After we come up with some titles, we discuss the suggestions and narrow them down until we come up with books that reflect real life issues.

Lori: What do you think of the commonly held belief that men, African American men in particular, don't read? Johnnie Mosley: I am not offended by this school of thought. I often run into people who are surprised that the Renaissance Men's Book Club exists and that we have been together for 5 years. The truth of the matter is we exist because men do read. Men read books, magazines, and newspapers. All you have to do is look around and you see men, including Black men reading on the public buses, barbershops, pool halls, libraries and in the malls.

Lori: Does your group read and discuss street lit or erotica? If so, why? If not, why not? Johnnie Mosley: We do not make it a point to make street or erotica a major focus in our book discussions. We focus on real life issues--relationships, marriage, divorce, faithfulness or not so faithfulness in a relationship, politics, history, money, community ethics and other community issues. We have read books by Donald Goines, Walter Mosley, Kimberla Lawson Roby, Parry Brown, Michael Baisden and Travis Hunter.

Lori: Tell me little bit about the annual youth awards program in which you're involved: Johnnie Mosley: I am chairmain of a civic group called Citizens For Better Service, which deals with public transportation issues. I founded this group in 1993.

One of the things we've done since 1993 is honor outstanding young people at our annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Award Program. The program is held the 2nd Sunday in January each year at a local church in Memphis. The program is so popular tha people show up 1/2 hour before it starts. We honor young people who are chosen by schools, youth organizations, churches and other community groups because they have the qualities of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We also present plaques for youth choir of the year, teacher of the year and student of the year. Although it takes a lot of work to put this program together, I enjoy it. There are special musical guests and guest speakers who volunteer their time towards the program. Also, the television media always covers this event, which puts the young people in the spotlight.

If you're interested in learning more about the Renaissance Men's Book Club of Memphis or getting in touch with Mr. Mosley, click on the highlighted link.


shelia said...

Good interview. I will go check out their site.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed your interview. I've always known that men read since most of the older men in my family read. Years ago I went to a book signing with Gloria Naylor in Wash., D.C. & most of the audience were males.

Sheila Wilcox

Joey Pinkney said...

I was so shocked, surprised and elated to see this post. What a great interview.

Being a man from Memphis, I can't really say I have any role models as far as reading. My parents put the books in front of me and I took it from there. There is something so fulfilling in reading something that is truly interesting.

I'm glad to see a grow of males are doing it to that level. If I still lived there, I would definitely have to join.

Thanks for the post.

Lori said...

Shelia I & Shelia II,
Glad you both enjoyed the interview.

If you're ever in Memphis, stop by the North Branch Library and say "Hi" to Johnnie. He'd love that (smile).