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The Education of Kevin Powell

By Kevin Powell

Terri Schlichenmeyer | 7/18/2016, 12:27 p.m.
You never knew what you didn’t have. There were times in your childhood when cereal was supper because there was ...

You never knew what you didn’t have.

There were times in your childhood when cereal was supper because there was nothing else. When birthday toys seemed gently pre-loved, hand-me-downs were new to you, and you were none the wiser. Your family didn’t have much and you never realized it then but in the book “The Education of Kevin Powell” by Kevin Powell, getting schooled later was rough.

Born in the spring of 1966, Kevin Powell entered the world and, though his mother had moved to Jersey City from “Down South” to escape it, slid directly into poverty. They shared a rat-and-roach-infested apartment with Powell’s aunt and her son, and their us-against-the-world closeness was “something safe, something magical…”

At age four, Powell “did not know what the word ‘drunk’ meant,” but he learned at a party, and was beaten by his mother for getting drunk-sick. At age six, his grandfather died, but although Powell barely knew the man, he understood that he was a wife-beater. At thirteen, he impulsively joined a fight and lost his cousin, who angrily shunned Powell for the rest of their lives.

As he grew and matured, Powell began to realize that his family was poor. His home turf was bleak and there were times when it seemed like a dead-end, but his mother told him that he needed an education to become something. She’d never hugged him. He received no physical affection from her; in fact, she beat him regularly. She said he wasn’t “gonna make it,” but she got him a library card anyway. Books opened up his world, he hungered to read, and he decided that he wanted to be a writer.

But then life intervened.

Powell went to college, but his temper got him into trouble time and again. He joined a mosque, but left it just as quickly. He’d learned to hate White people, and that got him into trouble, too. He found success in the entertainment world, but he started to drink and commit petty crimes; he hit bottom, then hit it again… until a search for his lost past gave him what he needed.

Imagine, if you will, that you’re in the ring with a pro-wrestler.

He picks you up, and slams you to the mat. Then he does it again. And again. That’s what it’s like to read “The Education of Kevin Powell”: a series of literary body-slams, over and over and over.

Part of that effect comes from Powell’s style: there are times when he pulls out a sense of childlike innocence that’ll make you chuckle uneasily. But beware – there are teeth behind the wide-eyed schtick, and his next memory gnashes them. In a way, that can be quite relentless – but it’s also very interesting and oh-so-entertaining.

I thought for a minute that I wouldn’t recommend this book (now out in paperback) but I ended up liking it a lot. It’s an up-and-down journey with humor and strength, and if that’s what you need, then “The Education of Kevin Powell” is what you should have.