Reviewing Sheila Wise Rowe’s ‘Young, Gifted, and Black’
In 1969, Composer and recording artist Nina Simone debuted her anthemic To Be Young, Gifted, and Black, pleading with listeners to “Open your heart to what I mean.” Borrowing her title from Simone, trauma specialist Sheila Wise Rowe issues a similar call in Young, Gifted, and Black, highlighting the lived experiences of talented Black youth with the intent of opening readers’ hearts to what it means to be young, gifted, and Black in today’s world. In Rowe’s words, “This book is both for and about those gifted, Black millennials and younger adults who dream and strive for a better life and better world (2),” and, “aims to identify and better equip young adults, their friends, parents, pastors, educators, and allies to walk together in the pursuit of healing and more well-rounded lives (8).”
With the subtitle ‘A Journey of Lament and Celebration,’ Rowe makes clear the path to achieving these goals is paved with both grief for the hardships which have historically faced and continue to face young black people, as well as hope in Christ for the future. As Rowe puts it, “as we hold the reality of our past, it roots us in our family lines as believers and Black folks in America where we lament and celebrate because our roots go even deeper into our faith in Christ… As we continue this healing journey, our time and attention are Christ-centered rather than fixated on past, present, or future. We can be present and at the same time honor the past and look forward to and set goals for the future (147).”
By Its Cover
Young, Gifted, and Black aims to bring healing to those who have felt societally-imposed shame related to being Black, and Derek Thornton at Notch Design has composed a cover which immediately communicates YGaB‘s unapologetic celebration of blackness. At first glance the eye finds the words Young, Gifted, and Black, loudly and boldly set against the profile of a young Black woman whose silhouette frames the skyline of downtown Houston. Perhaps most striking is the clearly defined fringes of the young woman’s hair. As Black hair has historically been downplayed or excluded from mainstream depictions of Black people in media, seeing it sharply silhouetted on the cover of YGaB speaks to the book’s insistence on bringing the Black experience out from the shadows, and celebrating blackness in all its manifestations.
As for the quality of materials, InterVarsity Press has published a book that can endure many readings and annotations, and still hold up for future use. Like the resilient young people whose stories are told within the pages, this book can stand up to abuse, its spine bent and broken, and it will remain whole and intact, ready to speak to anyone willing to listen. It is also worth noting IVP’s ongoing commitment to printing on sustainably sourced paper.
By Its Merits
YGaB succeeds in highlighting the Black experience. There is therefore value for both Black readers who might find comfort and healing in seeing versions of their own experience represented, and for non-Black readers who can learn to relate to and care for our Black sisters and brothers in their struggles. Each chapter ends with a time of reflection and embodied prayer, which helps the reader to focus and internalize the stories of hardship and healing, fostering an increased understanding of the difficulties the Black community regularly faces.
In my own reading as a white man, I was stuck by my privilege of never having to hide my authentic self through code-switching – which Rowe defines as “to change our dialect or behavior between different (usually racial or cultural) groups so we may fit into these different worlds (53)” – and never feeling as though there were parts of the world not made for me (ie, the cultural expectation that sports like soccer are “considered a White kids’ game (53).”) These are just two of many examples of the ways my eyes were opened to the difficulties and traumas faced by my Black neighbors, and instilled in me a greater compassion for the internalized burdens they carry daily.
Rowe’s experience as a trauma counselor enables her to handle these case studies with the care they deserve, while also shining a light on the realities faced by the Black community on a regular basis. For this reason YGaB is the right book written by the right person, and a valuable tool for anyone wishing to navigate the complexities of the Black experience.
By Its Faults
Given that YGaB is comprised primarily of personal narratives, it is difficult to critique. Some readers may not always relate to the stories, or may not always agree with Rowe’s own assessments of the accounts she includes, but it is nevertheless impossible to critique another person’s lived experience. For readers who may feel uncomfortable or incredulous reading the individual stories, I would recommend exploring why that might be, and to investigate whether there might be some latent assumptions about the Black experience at play as you engage.
By Its Rating
For the ways in which Young, Gifted, and Black encourages readers to recognize, affirm, and celebrate the divine spark in our Black sisters and brothers, I give it 4.5/5 DIVINE