Karen B. McLean Dade
A Conversation with Karen B. McLean Dade
by Alesha Gunn
I'm in Roxbury, the center of the cultural experiences of Boston's black community, a lot. It's where I attend church, eat brunch on occasion at the Silver Slipper Restaurant, and shop for hair products at the beauty supply store at the Mall of Roxbury. But I had never visited Frugal Bookstore.
When I walked in, I was welcomed by the sounds of Club Nouveau’s 1986 hit “Situation #9. I smiled. This was the kind of music my parents used to jam to when I was a child. I immediately felt at home. I even started to sing along. I was surprised at the sight of so many books. I'm so used to seeing a small African-American section in the more popular bookstores. As I gazed in amazement over the rows of books before me, I couldn’t help but to shame myself for not knowing about this place sooner.
Frugal Bookstore was hosting the book signing of author Karen B. McLean Dade. I was eager to hear her speak about her latest book. Dade, a Boston native, wrote “Divine N Promise: A Difficult Journey”, the title of the first volume of a six volume series. The series targets middle and secondary school students and speaks to cultural values, educational motivation, peer pressure, as well as the racial and social challenges facing black youth. As I saw community members, young and old, fill the bookstore in support of the event I thought to myself, “I guess the generation gap isn’t so huge after all.”
During the signing, Dade read a poem from the book. She encouraged the audience to participate in what she described as “reader’s theater” in which they read the poem along with her in a “call and response” manner. The poem, which focused heavily on the significance of the black struggle, definitely struck a chord with those in attendance, as you will hear sounds of affirmation throughout the reading. It was so engaging that I almost chimed in at one point, but I had to remind myself of my journalistic role and suppress my desire to participate.
Immediately following the signing, I interviewed Dade. The bookstore remained open during the interview, so there was a bit of background noise from eager patrons. I was distracted, but Dade kept her focus. I asked her how she felt “Divine N Promise” could potentially raise interest in education and reading among black youth, specifically males, since the drop out rate of black students in Boston Public Schools was so high. Her response was intriguing. She spoke about how the book was deliberately written to reach out to young black men by tackling many of the issues they face on a daily basis, including sex and violence.
Dade revealed that many young black males have been responsive to the message of her book thus far. She spoke about how the book’s subject matter prompted some of them to share their own experiences with her. Others have been inspired to begin penning their own stories.
It appears that Dade’s vision of motivating youth of color to read and value education is taking fruit, and I can only imagine how sweet it must be.