Saturday, October 10, 2015

Interview With Shatona Kilgore-Groves

As an African teaching in a predominantly white liberal arts college located in a predominantly white town in Minnesota, U.S.A., I saw the need, quite early, to enrich my understanding of American society through connecting with other kinds of Americans, starting with African Americans. I joined Pan African organizations in the Minneapolis area. Among the African Americans I got to know was Shatona Kilgore-Groves, seen in the photo, and her family.

Shatona struck me as a person who was genuinely interested in connecting people for the common good. I remember, for example, how she facilitated a gathering of African American authors, which I participated in. I reviewed her first book, in the Minnesota Spokesman Recorder. Naturally, I asked her to share her experiences and ideas with readers of my blog. She graciously agreed, and here is the interview:


JOSEPH:  I wanted to interview you because I have known for years how involved you are in social causes and issues. Can you tell us about your background and how you started in this direction?

SHATONA: I started advocating for parents because of my personal experience with my son who has ADHD. I believe it is important to define ADHD. Especially for people of color who tend to not believe in the diagnosis which doesn’t discriminate based on race or socioeconomic status. Some African Americans feel that black boys are being labeled with ADHD or misdiagnosed because of cultural differences. However, my husband and I were psychology majors in college and knew by the time our son was 3 years old that his behavior was consistent with the symptoms.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, a diagnosis can only be made when there is a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development. Our son’s behavior could not be controlled with typical discipline methods that worked with our daughter. He just couldn’t be still, no matter how hard we tried, and we could tell he was really trying.  It was like his inside motor told him to move and he couldn’t shut it off.

At times, we felt like failures, especially around family, a black family that believes in spanking or giving “ the look” and the child should sit still. This didn’t work for us or our son. With children with ADHD the frontal lobe that controls inappropriate actions and thoughts, focus, attention, remembering things from moment to moment, and controlling movement are often disturbed in people with ADHD. So medically our son is different, but ADHD also has positives, most ADHD children are proven to be highly intelligent which our son is. He is highly motivated and normally receives high grades and takes accelerated classes. It took advocating for our child to have a conducive classroom environment to express his gifts.

Advocating for our son led us to requesting an Individualized Education Program (IEP). His program allowed for movement breaks, fidgets, testing accommodations, curb to curb busing, etc. I didn't care as much about the label as much as I cared about his success. However, the IEP meetings were intimidating with an all-white staff and me and my husband the African-Americans. It was about 7-8 school staff and us.

I didn't feel the emotional support from the school which really wasn't their job, but it would of been nice, instead I felt blamed, labeled and that I fit a stereotype that I didn't want to fit into. I knew I wanted to help other parents through the process. I knew I wanted to educate parents on the resources available to them. I knew I wanted black boys to be successful. This doesn't mean I didn't want all kids to be successful. It is ridiculous when people say that, by the way, but some people have a purpose, and it may be exercise and health for diabetes patients, or food for people in Haiti.

My purpose at the time was to help black boys. I then started gathering knowledge on how to successfully do that from parents that had successfully raised a black son because I was afraid for my son. This turned into a book A Black Parent's Memoir: 30 Parents that have Raised an African American Son Tell their Story. However, knowing I couldn't reach every one through the book, I turned it into a weekly support group called The Black Parent Group.

The Black Parent Group is no longer weekly, but we have branched out to workshops, marches, author fairs, women expos, job fairs, and a socializing group. I now offer 1:1 coaching for parents of troubled children. I started on this journey with a bachelor's in Psychology, but because I want to be the most qualified, I obtained my master's degree, school social worker license, and substitute teacher license. I work in schools all over the metro including the Juvenile detention center's to have the most impact on kids.

JOSEPH: Can you tell us more about your current programs?
SHATONA: I view individuals holistically, so I offer programs that can meet not just one need but several.
A Parent Group - a support group for parents of all races raising an African American child.
Women's Expo and Job Fair – An event to promote entrepreneurship and connect qualified woman to careers to increase financial stability.
Networking Group - A monthly networking group that meets to support other entrepreneurs and hold one another accountable to achieve our business goals, this networking group has a free advice FB page and a page to promote our businesses.
Socializing Group - The socializing group is designed for women to take a break from all the stressors of the world and relax. We also focus on building friendships which is harder to do once you become an adult.

JOSEPH: I know you are also a writer. What inspired you to write and are there challenges you face as a writer?

SHATONA: I started writing books to help parents, then my second book was to help people heal emotionally and spiritually, my last book demonstrates to all children suffering from ADHD that they could be successful. 

I enjoy writing and I don't do it for the money, I do it because it is what I was called to do by the God I serve. It connects me to several awesome people like you Mr. Mbele. I enjoy the author fairs I attend and hearing how my books are so well received in every community. I am blessed to be able to write. I now have a blog so I can write about my many interests. I enjoy being a part of the blogging community. They are my virtual family. You can find my blog at - there is so much negativity in the world I decided to celebrate positive news. 

JOSEPH: I have known for years about your  involvement in efforts to bring together Africans and African Americans. What lessons or advice would you like to share from your experience?

SHATONA: I have to say that I am selfish in my attempts to bring Africans and African Americans together. African Americans were robbed of their heritage and were separated from our true families which were from Africa. So bringing these 2 groups together is necessary. My advice is for both groups to stop the nonsense and love one another. Build off each other’s strengths, support one another where the other is weak. Let's come together to create harmony and financial stability. There are differences because of the cultures and the cultural differences should be celebrated, not ignored but this doesn't mean one group is superior to the other. 

JOSEPH: What are your plans for the days ahead, in terms of social programs, writing, and whatever else?

SHATONA: This is a great time for me because my daughter just went off to a great college and this was a personal accomplishment met. My son that has ADHD is 13 and he is managing his life better than ever. We still have our challenges with his organization skills and other health challenges but he is growing up so I am finding more time for myself and  my goals. My husband  is supportive and helps me with my dreams. Thus, in the near future, I am planning for a Black Parent Group meeting with the topic of "What does black mean to you?" to  discuss unconscious biases. I am also planning the 2016 Expo and Job Fair. As always, I am writing and plan to start on another book on a topic I've never written about before. Life is exciting, everyday a new endeavor, and I don't plan on stopping any of my personal pursuits at this time. I will lead programs, teach, counsel, organize events,  coach parents, write, and be everything I was created to be.

To purchase Shatona’s books:

My South Asian Literature Course is Underway

My South Asian Literature course has completed its third week, and I am pleased with it. We have read Bapsi Sidhwa's Water and watched Deepa Mehta's movie of the same name, on which the novel is based. Having taught two other novels by Sidhwa--Cracking India and The Crow Eaters--I found it easy to introduce Sidhwa to my class, situating her within the South Asian Literary tradition.

Reading Water has been eye-opening. Never had I encountered a novel that explored so deeply and passionately the situation of widows in Hindu society. I had some understand of Hindu traditions regarding widows, such as the concept and practice of sati. Water, however afforded a more detailed, more nuanced understanding of the existential condition of widows sanctioned by the religious doctrines going back thousands of years.

The central character is a young girl, Chuyia, married when she was barely ten to a man in his fifties and widowed soon thereafter. In accordance with Hindu Brahmanic tradition, she is taken away from her parents' home and put into an ashram, a home for widows. Chuyia's experiences in the ashram elicit the deepest sadness and sympathy especially since she entertains the hope of returning home sooner rather than later, little knowing that that is not possible.

Before Chuyia is widowed, we hear about the illness of her husband, Hira Lal, through the thoughts of Bhagya, her mother:

She and Somnah [her husband] both knew that if Hira Lal managed to recover, Chuyia would be allowed to return home; but if he didn't recover she would be a widow and she would never return to them....Bhagya's thoughts tormented her all night. She knew that in Brahmin culture, once widowed, a woman was deprived of her useful function in society--that of reproducing and fulfilling her duties to her husband. She ceased to exist as a person; she was no longer either daughter or daughter-in-law. There was no place for her in the community, and she was viewed as a threat to the society. A woman's sexuality and fertility, which was so valuable to her husband in his lifetime, was converted upon his death into a potential danger to the morality of the community. Bhagya's heart was filled with dread (p. 31-32).

When I think about the relationship between films and novels, I assume that the novels came first, inspiring the film makers. Sidhwa's novel, however, reverses this pattern. Watching the film after we had read the novel, I had a hard time keeping this in mind. I appreciated both, nevertheless, touched by the film's vivid portrayals of scenes, characters, and scenery that I had encountered in the novel. The colours and sounds in the film brought back memories of the month I spent in India in 1991.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

If You Like My Writing, Please Support "Papa's Shadow"

I know there are thousands of readers of  my writings out there, thousands who have read my book, Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences. A number of these have told me how much they like this book.

One of them is Patrick Hemingway, the only remaining child of Ernest Hemingway. Having lived for much of his adult life--over twenty years--in my country, Tanganyika (later Tanzania), he knows exactly what I am saying in this book, which he calls "a tool of survival."

I wish to let my dear readers know that I have joined hands with Patrick Hemingway to share our reflections on his famous father. We appear in a documentary film by Jimmy Gildea titled Papa's Shadow, discussing Ernest Hemingway's life, travels, writings, and thoughts, especially those connected with his African experiences in 1933-34 and 1953-54.

If you have read my Africans and Americans book, you will enjoy hearing Patrick Hemingway mentioning it and reading from it as he and I talk about Hemingway's appreciation of different cultures.

Papa's Shadow is a unique documentary. It will change the way people view Ernest Hemingway. I saw this a few weeks ago at its premiere screening in Minnetonka, a suburb of Minneapolis.

The documentary is completed, but it will only be released after certain costs are  met. There is a fund drive going on, scheduled to end just over a week from now. As a contributor to this effort, I am joining hands with Ramble Pictures, the company that Jimmy founded, to solicit the remaining contributions. There are special incentives attached to the contributions, including a signed copy of my Africans and Americans book, for contributions over 200 dollars.

Read more about Papa's Shadow, and, if you can, make your contribution at this Kickstarter site.

Monday, September 28, 2015

A Sequel to My "Africans and Americans" Book

I am working on a sequel to my book, Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences. This is partly in response to inquiries and request from my readers and partly because I have known for a long time that I needed to keep writing, given the breadth and complexity of the topic of the first book, not to mention its dynamism.

On the tenth year anniversary of the book, I publicly declared that I was working on a sequel. I have to fulfill the promise, mindful of the Swahili proverb, "Ahadi ni deni," A promise is a debt. This second book will contain a number of short essays I have published as well as revisions of talks I have given to various audiences. I hope to finish and publish it before the end of the year. I already have the title for it, but I want to keep it as a surprise.

I thank my readers very much for their responses to my Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences as I did in the following video commemorating the book's tenth year anniversry.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Papa's Shadow: A Documentary on Hemingway in East Africa

Though not yet released, the documenatry film, Papa's Shadow, by Jimmy Gildea and the Ramble Pictures crew, continues to generate excitement and anticipation. The latest evidence of this is a preview in Indiewire.

The documentary stems from my course, Hemingway in East Africa, and features a conversation between Patrick Hemingway, Ernest Hemingway's only remaining child, and me, centered on Hemingway's lifelong fascination with Africa, manifested through his life, travels, writings, and ideas.

Though completed, Papa's Shadow will only be released after the completion of a fundraising drive which is underway, with only about three weeks left.  My daughter Zawadi, who volunteers with Ramble Pictures, sent out the following appeal:


My name is Zawadi Mbele, and I am contacting you today to let you know about an amazing project. Ramble Pictures, a Minneapolis-based, independent film company, recently launched a 30-day "Kickstarter" campaign in order to raise funds for the distribution of our completed documentary, Papa's Shadow.

Papa's Shadow is a personal film about Ernest Hemingway in East Africa. It explores his hunting expeditions and holds key dialogues on subjects such as race, language, and the cultures that distinguish us as citizens of the world. Featuring exclusive testimony by Ernest's only living son, Patrick Hemingway, as well as Tanzanian author and Hemingway scholar, Dr. Joseph Mbele, this documentary explores the integral role of two safaris in their shaping of an author and demise of a legend. 

Kickstarter webpage
 to learn more about how you can play an important role in bringing this documentary to distribution. Also, with Kickstarter, we are offering exclusive rewards with every donation, such as the new Hemingway Library Edition of "Greens Hills of Africa," signed by Patrick Hemingway. 

If there is someone else from your organization you would recommend contacting, we would be grateful to have our information passed along. If you can, please take the time to explore our webpage and let me know if you have any questions at all. You can email me directly or email Elizabeth Turner at

Thank you for your time, and we look forward to hearing back from you!


Zawadi Mbele

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Teaching South Asian Literature Again

We have just begun the fall semester, here at St. Olaf College. I am teaching two courses: First Year Writing and South Asian Literature. I just want to say a word about the Literature course.

Having included various South Asian writers regularly in my Post-colonial Literature course, I moved into teaching South Asian Literature rather easily. Year after year, I have developed a broader and deeper understanding of the literature and cultures of this region. Therefore, I have been eager to teach new texts, confident that I can situate them in the context of the tradition they spring from and participate in.

This semester, I have chosen to use texts I have neither read nor taught before. These are The Artist of Disappearance, by Anita Desai; Noontide Toll, by Romesh Gunesekera; The Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri; Jasmine, by Bharati Mukherjee; The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje; and Water, by Bapsi Sidhwa.

Unlike in the past, I have decided to focus on contemporary writers. I will, of course, be making references to the long tradition going back to the Mahabharata and the Ramayana and other Sanscritic texts, incorporating well known literary giants like Rabindranath Tagore, Mulk Raj Anand, Raja Rao, R.K. Narayan, and more recent ones like Anita Desai and Salman Rushdie.

As always, since the field of South Asian Literature is so vast and ever-changing--like any other regional literary tradition--I am going to be asking myself why I have chosen particular authors and not others, why particular texts and not others. Nevertheless, I look forward to a memorable learning experience, for my students and me.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Seenaa Oromia's "The In-Between"

A few days ago, I wrote about a book event in Minneapolis featuring Seena Godana-Dulla Jimjimo and her book The In-Between: The Story of African-Oromo Women and the American Experience. Today I finished reading the book and wish to comment on it.

The In-Between is a thoughtful meditation on the predicament of the oppressed and marginalized, starting with the Oromos of East Africa and incorporating women in Oromo and African society at home in Africa as well as abroad, specifically America, which the author knows first hand. In the process, The In-Between deals with other social evils, such as discrimination, prejudice, and violence.

The In-Between is also a manifesto, which outlines the author's vision of what needs to be done to solve the problems she details. She calls for educating women about their rights, solidarity between men and women in pursuit of equal rights, the abandonment of negative cultural and religious beliefs and practices which perpetuate the oppression of women.

Among the most memorable aspects of the book are accounts of the suffering the author and her family experienced in their homeland, Oromia, whose existence is overshadowed in the mind of the world by the name Ethiopia. The In-Between presents an illuminating account of the complex dynamics of Oromo organizations which have been attempting to unify and mobilize Oromos in Oromia and abroad. It shows that the Oromos are not homogeneous; they have differences which some individuals, as well as their oppressors, exploit for their own interests.

This book helps outsiders to understand aspects of the country we know as Ethiopia which are not generally known, especially the conflicts among Ethiopia's ethnic groups and the domination of the Oromos by the Abbyssinian regime.

The author was born and raised in Oromia and experienced, together with her family, relatives, and people she knew, the suffering she is writing about . She came to the USA as a teenager and soon involved herself in student organizations and Oromo diaspora politics. The idea of "the in-between" refers to people like her, who find themselves caught between two worlds.

The In-Between holds much promise. It charts the  trajectory the author has set her sights on as a passionate and thoughtful activist in the cause of the oppressed and marginalized--women, children and others--from Oromia to the U.S.A. and around the world. I learned much from this book, especially its insightful and sensitive depiction of the condition of women.