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Telling the stories of Bermudian males

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Book that resonates: Bermudian Ty-Ron Douglas is an assistant professor at the University of Missouri (Photograph supplied)

Border Crossing Brothas: Black Males Navigating Race, Place and Complex Space. It's a book that should resonate with many people here, if only because it tells the stories of our own.

Bermudian Ty-Ron Douglas, an assistant professor and affiliate faculty member of the Black Studies programme at the University of Missouri, is the author.

What's the book about?

The book draws on the experiences and journeys of 12 black Bermudian males, sharing their educational experiences in places such as the school house, in barbershops, local sports clubs, the Church and the neighbourhood.

It is a project that really allows us to hear the authentic voices of black Bermudian males and how they define success and the mechanisms and experiences and processes that impacted their journeys to success and their perceptions of success.

Is it a work of fiction?

They're real people but I've used pseudonyms. In many ways they represent “every man”.

They're emblematic of various sorts of identities and positions in Bermuda, from the blue-collar worker to the educator to the corporate guy, to some who some might see as “street pharmacists”, people who are challenging and questioning the system.

One of the things I found really interesting when comparing the journey of someone who went about it the “right” way versus someone who [people consider to have] gone the “wrong” way was the intersections their journeys had and the interesting comparisons and things that emerged.

How did you decide who to profile?

The opportunities to connect emerged organically. Those four spaces — the barbershop, the sports club, Church and the neighbourhood — were the initial hubs that I first connected with [the people I profiled].

Those four spaces were significant in my journey and I have relationships with people in those spaces. Organically, 12 men came to me. We just found each other.

Generally, what did they talk about?

The gentlemen range in age from their twenties to their forties. They talk about family borders, transitioning overseas, the economic borders they have to navigate, ideological borders.

[They raise the questions] what does it mean to be Bermudian? What does it mean to be Bermudian of African descent? In Bermuda we have institutional borders, geographical borders, geopolitical borders.

Bermuda is a unique space where you're constantly required to border-cross because of its size. It's 600 miles off the coast of North Carolina, a British territory, it has Caribbean connections; what does all that mean for Africanness and identity?

And their stories were so interesting that you decided to put them together in a book?

The book is based on a research study. It's a border-crossing project based on an approved research study I did, an award-winning dissertation.

Who gave you an award?

The American Education Research Association, the largest educational research organisation in the world. They have a number of dissertation awards.

The particular one I received was the Critical Educators for Social Justice Award. I completed my PhD in 2012 and got the award the following year.

Was it because of that acknowledgement that you decided to write the book?

My colleagues and advisers always thought my dissertation had book potential so it was always a plan. In April of this year I had a conversation with an editor at Peter Lang Publishing about it and my thought was, wouldn't it be cool if I could return to Bermuda as a keynote speaker for the International Colloquium on Black Males in Education [at the Bermuda College next week], and release my book at the same time?

Does the book give any advice for border crossers?

It actually provides four key variables that are helpful for parents, educators, leaders and politicians to consider.

It shows models and key variables that emerged from the data and that I am now triangulating through an NCAA-funded study in the US on black male student athletes, and also a new study in South Africa on black males there.

The other part of the book that is powerful is [hearing how we] have to value the educators who are doing important work outside of the school house — our coaches, our barbers; it may be someone who drives a trash truck, the carpenter in the neighbourhood. Some of the most brilliant people I've met don't have a PhD.

A lot of men are never appropriately affirmed or validated for what they do.

What do you bring to the table that other experts on black studies don't?

I am a border-crossing brotha in my own identity, my own journey, and my positionality allows me to connect and better understand what those variables look like in the journeys of others — or not.

I was born and raised in Bermuda, but I have family connections in the US so, literally, I am a border crosser. I see space differently than many of my colleagues. Also, many of us look at local and national realities through a singular or local lens, but when you have a transnational identity you bring multiple lenses to an evaluation. So I'm probably pushing the conversation in different ways than my colleagues.

Sometimes we have a tendency to think issues that we see in Bermuda are strictly Bermudian, but these are larger diasporic conversations and so, as a border-crossing brotha, I am pushing the conversation for us to consider the larger context of the realities we see locally — whether in Bermuda, the US or South Africa.

What's especially great about the book for you?

I am a product of the village of Bermuda — Pacers Track Club, Dandy Town, Wolves, Warwick Workmen's — and I received a number of scholarships on my journey.

I'm not a traditional academic and my journey in life can encourage folk. I come from a special place and have had the support of many special people, and that's everyday Bermuda.

Sometimes we take for granted the power of our influence and, for me, the book is a gift to the country, a return on their investment in me.

Your hope is that it ends up on the New York Times bestseller list?

Bermuda can help make that happen. The pre-ordering process is key and it is happening now. I have done all I can to bring the price of the book down below the US market price — I want to ensure the people who made the book can afford to buy the book.

Ty-Ron Douglas is a keynote speaker at the 5th Annual International Colloquium on Black Males in Education, which opens Wednesday. He will sign copies of his book at Brown & Co at 6.30pm on Tuesday. The book is also available for sale online, at www.DrTyDouglas.com, www.peterlang.com or www.amazon.com

Speaking out: Ty-Ron Douglas says his new work, Border Crossing Brothas: Black Males Navigating Race, Place and Complex Space, allows us to hear the authentic voices of black Bermudian males (Photograph supplied)