Ta-Nehisi Coates teaches for a change

Published by Kyle Cusick on

Author Ta-Nehisi Coates, a real-life hero with connections to the historic U.S. Black Panthers, has their book “Between the World and Me” in the UCC library.
Mason Ramirez / The Mainstream

While Black Panther’s T’Challa was a beloved cinema hero, Ta-Nehisi Coates is a real-life hero with connections to the historic U.S. Black Panthers and an icon, especially influential in the black community. Coates is an award-winning novelist and journalist whose publications cover the truth about racial injustices in America; and though the U.S. has come a long way in the last 60 years it still has a very long way to go.

Coates has become one of the most influential black intellectuals of his generation, with a very impressive resume. His best-selling books include the following:

* The Beautiful Struggle

* We Were Eight Years in Power

* The Water Dancer

* Between the World and Me

Coates was born in the city of Baltimore in 1975 and grew up in a state of fear, hating school but loving books. He eventually made his way to Howard University, where he studied and later became a writing professor at the very school he attended.

It’s through his teachings that Coates hopes to help young adults better understand the world and give them the tools to help change it. During a “Teaching for Change” presentation where Coates was the guest speaker, he explained his long-range vision of teaching where he plants seeds that may mature after he is long gone: “If the struggle is our struggle only for that particular time of our lifetime, well, you see, your vision is impoverished already. My commitment is rooted in the commitment of many more people who came before me and who got to see the realization of nothing. So what right do I have to demand in my lifetime that I will only struggle on behalf of the things that I see right now?”

Although Coates resides in New York, he has spoken on topics such as “Race in America: Ta-Nehisi Coates and the Burden of History” and “A Deeper Black: Race in America” to sold-out crowds at Oregon State University, University of Oregon and Willamette University in the last five years.

Coates is unafraid to cover topics that may make people uncomfortable or sad when he promotes an accurate depiction of black history to students. He teaches that it is all right to be uncomfortable in the classroom. To Coates, being uncomfortable with accuracy may mean students are growing and willing to open their mind to the truth, without bias. Coates’ influence on people in and out of the classroom is telling of his ability to teach people to know the real-life events that took place in history and how we can finally end racial injustice.

Coates said that he aims to “expose his kids to all sorts of things from all sorts of perspectives” in an interview on MSNBC earlier this year.

The Black History Month book display in the student center reveals hardships that the black community did and does face every day.
Mason Ramirez / The Mainstream

Coates’ father, William Paul Coates, was a Vietnam war veteran but more so remembered for being a famous activist in the 1970s, acting as a leader in the original Black Panthers Party which was a Marxist-Leninist and black power political organization founded by college students. William Paul Coates became defense captain of the Baltimore Black Panthers, managing all activities in Maryland. His work with the Black Classic Press was influential on his son Ta-Nehisi growing up.

Ta-Nehisi stepped in to write the Black Panther and Captain America graphic novels in 2016 and has written several other books since joining those franchises; however, the famous Black Panther movie script was written by Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole. And yet, correlations between the movie and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ life are hard to resist: T’Challa was the king of Wakanda in the Black Panther books and movies while Ta-Nehisi’s father was a fearless leader as well of the Black Panther Party for some time.

The Black Panther “Wakanda Forever” movie brought in nearly $1 billion since its release last year, leading Coates to state in a Princeton University article that the change we see today with black artists being recognized for their talent is in part largely because of African American studies in universities in the 1960s. He states, “Diffusion of black talent caused people to take black people seriously in a way they did not before.”

But it’s Ta-Nehisi Coates’ other bodies of work that came before the Black Panther and Captain America books that have really resonated with the black community and supporters alike. His essays in The Atlantic include The Case for Reparations, Acting French, Letter to My Son, Fear of a Black President, My President Was Black, The First White President, The Economics of Magazines and Diversity, The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration, On Homecomings, and Other People’s Pathologies  “The Case For Reparations” in 2014 shed light on race, racism, and politics. Readers interested in his essays can find them on The Electric Typewriter website. Coates won the 2015 National Book Award prize for nonfiction for Between the World and Me, and according to The New York Times the book is “a visceral, blunt exploration of his experience of being a black man in America.” [Add a sentence here on some of the writing awards Coates has won).

He opened the conversation to enlighten people on slavery and its effect on the country and how we have evolved from then to now.

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