Vanguard Teaching

Front and center of tomorrow's society – learn smarter, teach harder

Tupac, The Bookworm

​”A coward dies a thousand times, a soldier dies but once.” Tupac

“A coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant taste of death but once.” William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

There is a major element of Tupac Amaru Shakur that many critics, fans, and thugs forget: he was an avid reader.  To the chagrin to some, and bewilderment of others, Tupac was a nerd too.  We can spend many written pages about Tupac’s Frantz Fanon, lumpen-proletariat to anti-imperialist, revolutionary concept of what a “thug” is but that is for a different blog, different day, and different site.  I want to provide educators, specifically those who teach students of color that live in disadvantaged areas, a potential idea on how to get their students (i.e. reluctant-to-read boys of color) to read.  Reading is not for suckers or sellouts, nor does it necessarily erase one’s cultural identity.

As a child, I enjoyed reading books on sports (Matt Christopher) and non-fictional topics (Encyclopedia Brittanica lived in the hallway in front of my bedroom).  But as a young black teenager coming of age, I lost my passion for reading because, in retrospect, I did not get proper academic guidance on books of interest to which I could relate.  Ironically, my love of hip hop opened my exposure to Coehlo’s The Alchemist (interview with Talib Kweli), Cleaver’s Soul on Ice (Ras Kass’ debut album), and Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time (Saul Williams’ “Coded Language”).  These books quenched my thirst for literature that made connections to my socioeconomic realities and worldly interests that the school’s canon did not include.  If other celebrities who I followed had an open list of their reading, I definitely would have followed even closer and read even more.

I heard this eye opening album in high school which encouraged my reading of Eldridge Cleaver’s “Soul on Ice” after seeing it in my high school’s library display during the “banned book” week.

I strongly suggest middle and high school teachers to use book lists from icons and celebrities that the students admire to engage their interest in reading.  If they want to be like them on-camera, hopefully they can emulate their off-camera intellectual habits.

Tupac, the son of a Black Panther, namesake of significant South American uprising, product of an unjust society, loved to read.  This is where the educator should take advantage.  Websites like Goodreads.com do an amazing job of sourcing literature that celebrities have explicitly stated they have read or through connecting literary references from their artwork.   From a list of 80 books, here are five books I believe should be heavily considered essential readings for male high school students of color:

1.  Malcolm X

Malcolm X, as I stated in my previous post, changed my life.  Time magazine states that this book is in its top ten for must-read autobiographies (next to A Diary of Anne Frank).  The book is a fascinating tale of a lost person getting found, lost again, and found again. 

“The ability to read awoke inside of me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive.” – Malcolm X

2.  Julius Caesar

Caesar is a widely read piece of literautre that should be repackaged/remarketed as the quintessential book warning of the universal dangers of blind trust/loyalty and ambition.  Pac quoted this book in the song “If I Die 2Nite” and was a fervent advocate of being weary of his friends’ intentions amd loyalty.

“Brutus is an honorable man.” – Shakespeare

3.  The Art of War

Sun Tzu’s classic manifesto on military strategy can be applied in different battlegrounds in life: boardroom, classroom, living room, etc.
To help organize our young men’s lives why not introduce a classic strategic essay that can be applied in multipke facets of life.  Discipline, movement with purpose, and methodical anticipation – character traits that can set many young people straight.

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” – Sun Tzu

4.  A Raisin in the Sun

This Lorraine Hansberry classic that could have had Tupac (instead of Diddy) star in if he was not murdered.  What happens to a dream deferred?  Many of our young men can relate to this frustratingly provocative play.  A few schools may already have this play on their reading list – for those that do not, I suggest you reconsider.

“Seem like God didn’t see fit to give the black man nothing but dreams -but He did give us children to make them dreams seem worth while.” – Lorraine Hansberry

5.  How to Argue and Win Every Time

I am not necessarily of a fan of going into debates for the sake of winning (I hope people listen and learn).  But Spence’s book can help young men equip themselves with the power of verbal dexterity that can protect them from many of the jedi mind tricks out there.  Arm a man with the power of words, and his hands will not be his primary choice of defense.

“The old saw that ‘sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never harm me’ does not, in fact, hold true.” – Gary Spence

Our non-reading black male youth need a different approach in how we market the vital need to read.  Try showing them the reading material of those they idolize (Lebron James and other athletes are avid readers).  Tupac is one of many bookworms out there who can show our young men that reading does not have to diminish one’s culture nor masculinity.  

“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” Frederick Douglass

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