Out Tuesday via Belt Publishing, “Black in the Middle” features personal narratives, commentaries, poetry, photography and more. Its essay on Columbus addresses police brutality and gentrification.
Deva Rashed-Boone thought moving north of her southeast Texas home meant escaping blatant racism and white supremacy.
But St. Louis, where she attended college and began her career in education, was no different. She cites the death of Michael Brown Jr., who in 2014 was shot by police officer Darren Wilson in suburban Ferguson, as a major indicator.
In 2015, a job opportunity brought her northeast to Columbus, where she was confronted with the same reality. Just a year later, 13-year-old Ty’re King was shot and killed by the Columbus Division of Police.
“I didn’t process it in the way that I think I needed to,” said Rashed-Boone, 38, who worked as the dean of family and community engagement for a charter school on the Near East Side. “The things I observed in St. Louis with respect to Michael Brown Jr. still weighed heavily on me, and I needed to compartmentalize my response to Ty’re’s death in order to function.”
Rashed-Boone was able to work through some of those emotions in her contribution to “Black in the Middle: An Anthology of the Black Midwest,” to be released Tuesday by Belt Publishing. Edited by Terrion L. Williamson, the collection explores the experiences of Black Midwesterners through personal narratives, commentaries, poetry, photography and more.
“There is no latitude or elevation at which the potentially deadly dangers of racism and white supremacy can be escaped, unless its propagators elevate their understanding of what constitutes true humanity,” Rashed-Boone wrote in her essay, “Columbus: Different Latitude, Same Platitudes.” She has since moved back to Texas to be closer to her mother.
In “Black in the Middle,” Williamson asserts that Black life everywhere is “conditioned by precarity.” However, she argues that Black Midwesterners’ stories have been overlooked in the national narrative.
“Even as electoral campaign cycles mobilize … around the plight of heartland laborers, the disproportionate and specific consequences of deindustrialization, population loss, and economic decline on Black Midwestern communities remains conspicuously unaddressed,” she writes.
It’s an issue that sparked the inaugural Black Midwest Symposium, also titled “Black in the Middle,” hosted by the Black Midwest Initiative in 2019 at the University of Minnesota. That event led to the book, which includes some of the participants, along with new voices.
Chicago native Mark V. Reynolds wrote about the persistence of segregated neighborhoods in his essay, “Cleveland and Chicago: A Tale of Four Cities.”
“I think Black people obviously are aware of (the current segregation),” said Reynolds, 61, who lived in Cleveland for years before returning to the Windy City. “I’m not sure that everyone else is — or maybe they just take it for granted as the way things are. And that’s one of the pernicious things about segregation and racism is that it’s become so ingrained that people don’t question it.”
Reynolds said the Midwest isn’t often referenced as a place where “the Black experience” happens. He hopes other Black Midwesterners will find validation in “Black in the Middle,” and that others will realize the region includes populations beyond the white working class.
“There is a shared experience of both struggle and achievement and joy,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff happening here in the Midwest that resonates throughout the country, and the experience of Black people is part of that.”
Joe Boyle, a 45-year-old history teacher at a Toledo high school, is not Black, but he said he wanted to contribute research from his master’s project to help illustrate “the diversity of experience for African Americans in the Midwest.”
Boyle’s piece, “‘Orphan District:’ Segregation in Rural Ohio,” examines the Spencer-Sharples Local School District in Toledo. The predominantly Black area suffered neglect due to unjust policies in the 1950s and ‘60s.
“(It’s) a cautionary tale about Ohio’s education policy and about the inherent unfairness in an over-reliance on property tax,” Boyle said. “And while that is improved today, it’s still something that just exacerbates every inequality in our society and the state.”
He said he plans to use other contributions in the book in his history class.
“For anybody in the Midwest, this is an important read if we’re truly trying to make the kind of progress that we say we’re trying to make right now in light of Black Lives Matter and in light of his cultural re-examining of race in America,” Boyle said.
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