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Book Review: Raising Hell: A Life of Activism

Terri Schlichenmeyer | 1/16/2013, 5 p.m.

There are people in your community that make it stronger.

In many cases, you don't know who they are. They work quietly behind the scenes, and all you ever see is the good they do.

In other cases, you hear from them loud and clear, and you know they've got your back. And in the new book "Raising Hell: A Life of Activism" by Najee Ali (BookBaby, $9.99, foreword by California Congresswoman Karen Bass), you'll meet one of those people.

Born in Gary, Ind., Ronald Todd Eskew was a neighbor of the Jackson family and remembers being a big fan of Michael. Eskew didn't enjoy the lifestyle that his idol had. However, there was crime and violence in Gary, and young Eskew's own mother became addicted to heroin. That eventually fractured his family; the siblings were split up and young Ronald ended up in California.

"My life in South Central was a real eye-opener," says the author. "I had got a taste of gang life. I didn't understand or like it."

Still, he tried to live a good life and hung out with basketball players, but he was banned from the arena. He became angry all the time-- in part, due to a growing sense of helplessness mixed with budding activism--and almost participated in a riot following the Rodney King verdict.

He was looking for rebellion, but instead he robbed a drugstore.

Sent to prison, he discovered that he liked the strict schedule of incarceration. He also discovered the Black Muslims and the work they do. He converted and changed his name to Najee Ali.

"Raising Hell" is a book about Ali's life in and out of trouble and 18 accounts of his activism--including that on behalf of his family. This is an engaging book with a lot of names and familiar faces, as well as pictures and behind-the-scenes stories as Ali saw them, historical events, and more.

For anyone who's looking for a place to funnel energy, time, or a need to do good on behalf of the people in the neighborhood, "Raising Hell: A Life of Activism" is surely strong inspiration.

Along Ali's life journey, he has intertwined with entertainment icons such as Michael Jackson and Steve Harvey; civil and social justice activists Dick Gregory and Martin Luther King III, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Congresswoman Karen Bass; business leaders Magic Johnson, John Hope Bryant and Kathy Hughes, and journalists Roland Martin and Tavis Smiley.