For as long as I can recall, I’ve loved sitting down at the feet of the adults in my family, to listen to their stories. Whether they were of my parents’ journey to America, in search of the American dream, or the elaborate tales of grandeur by my father, telling how great our homeland Haiti was before a certain President stripped it of its wealth—the acres of land owned by his family, and the position he held as an educator in the school system, and how respected he was by his peers; The abundance of housekeepers, drivers, and caretakers that our family possessed. But, have my mother tell the story, Haiti was filled with heartache and sorrow, with the exception of the landscape, her wonderful friends, and the school that she attended. She seldom spoke of her own family; in fact she never spoke of them. It was not until more recently that I learned of the history of my mother’s family and their ties to Haiti. They had to flee the country in order to save the lives of those rebellious youth demanding change—the countless young people exiled all over the world to spare their lives. The intolerant attitude of the then-reigning government would change everything about that generation, and it would forever change the lives of its natives, and generations to come.
Those moments meant the world to me. Hearing those stories changed my life. Growing up in America, Brooklyn NY, in an Italian neighborhood (with a few Latinos), it was hard to adjust. So, those story times were so valuable to me. They would be my only connection and memory of Haiti. They would have to hold me for 17 years before a great tragedy would force me back, to witness firsthand my responsibility to my people. Those stories would forever keep me connected to the land of my birth.
Those stories are also the root of my love of books, literature, history, and the search for information. History was always my strong point in school. I was always fascinated by African-American History—W.E.B. Dubois, Marcus Garvey, Malcom X, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Medgar Evers, Booker T Washington, Harriet Tubman, and Fredrick Douglass were the subject of many of my studies. Those beautiful people changed the world, my world. They gave me the opportunity to come to this country and have a hopeful outlook for my future. I thought it was an honor just to be able to read about these historical giants. I was in awe of all their accomplishments.
I am equally impressed by A Man From Another Land, by Isaiah Washington, legendary actor, philanthropist, husband, father, educator, historian and history maker. He is best know for his acting—in Grey’s Anatomy, Love Jones, Romeo Must Die, and Get On The Bus, to name a few. His huge body of work, known to the public and recognized by the masses is just an inkling of the man himself. We often see an individual on the screen and assume that we know him. We allow the tabloids and other media outlets to serve as family albums, giving us a personal view into the private lives of these individuals. Sadly, we accept whatever the press reports as truth. When honestly, the lives of these so-called celebrities may not be as exciting as the stories told to us by the strangers we count on as reliable sources.
After great pain, heartache, and betrayal by those closest to him, Washington decided to seek out his roots. He went on a quest to find his soul, to heal his spirit, and to connect with his ancestors. He was no longer fulfilled by his work. It no longer served as the drug so many wanted him to be hooked on. So, he journeyed back to the homeland to renew his broken spirit. Or was it broken? I say the journey was to reclaim the position that his grandmother, Savannah Mae Holmes, had taught him to fight for. He came to get back that respect, to stand up for himself. He also came back to rediscover the home cooking his grand-aunt, Muh Dear had always lovingly prepared, the take cover tactics his mother, Faye Marie Washington-McKee had taught him (how to chose your battles wisely). And he came back to “Spread the Love”.
This book serves as a gateway into Washington’s past. The parallels are beautifully outlined to give us a clear vision of the roads he carefully traveled, and the challenges that earned him his tribal scars. The journey of this dark-skinned boy, watching the abuse of his mother, becoming a man, joining the armed forces, is magnificently recounted: Attending a historical college in search of his Blackness, dealing with the murder of his father, the death of his beloved mother, the death of his mentor/father-figure, marriage and fatherhood. He took his acting career to the pinnacle of success, had it taken away, and then took the time to trace his roots back to Africa, like so many great men and women have tried to do. He rose to be named Chief in his homeland, Sierra Leone.
This book may someday be classified as one of our generation’s greatest pieces of literature, like Richard Wright’s “Native Son”. To think that so many African-Americans have spent their lives trying to trace their roots back to Africa; seeking the connection that would build their future and fill that void. Washington has accomplished all that his predecessors tried so hard to do. Perhaps they were sent before him, to clear the path for him to claim it as Chief. Could his journey through childhood–the Frazier sisters’ constant verbal and physical abuse, the rides through the forest, the scars he obtained to be the first, the rejection by his college peers, the death and loss–have been the appetizers for the main course that he would enjoy now as royalty?
How many of us can say that we have sat with kings, princes, dignitaries, and have received invitations from Presidents, past present and future to dine with them or to speak before groups of powerhouses? Have we seen poverty at its worse, have we looked at death in the face, and survived, while keeping our sanity?
In my opinion, this piece of literature is more of a diary, and a rite of passage to the real life that awaits Chief Isaiah Washington. My recommendation is that everyone get a copy of the book, read it intently (don’t just skim through it). Meditate on its message. Forget everything that you’ve heard about Isaiah Washington, and read the book up to chapter 15. Then, go look at all the tabloids, and then complete the book. YOUR life will be changed. Join or form a book club, talk about it, ask questions—I promise you will have plenty. Whatever your race may be, you will see yourself in these pages. You will want to find your roots. It explains so much about human behavior. If I ever doubted the concept of Six Degrees of Separation, I doubt it no more. No wonder for so many years, certain races were banned from reading, it is a powerful thing. Let us empower ourselves.
Written by: Myrdith Leon McCormack