Thursday, August 17, 2017

Once You Know This: Emily Blejwas

Once You Know This by Emily Blejwas on Amazon
This is freedom. this is a weapon greater than any force you can name. Once you know this, and know it with all your being, you will move and act with a determination and power that the federal government cannot ignore, that the school boards cannot overlook, and that the housing authority cannot dismiss. Martin Luther King, Jr., Chicago, 1966 {ARC pages 205-206}
once you know this coverBrittany lives in inner city Chicago. Does that inevitably mean endless multi-generational recycling of WIC, welfare, worry, and weariness? Does starting life in urban (or rural) poverty mean leaving school as a dropout? Not necessarily. Once You Know This opens in Chicago, ends in Montgomery, Alabama, the city the Montgomery Bus Boycott and Rosa Parks put on the map for all time. Without a doubt fifth-grader Brittany has inherited basic smarts, but classmates, teachers, friends, and neighbors all play essential parts in helping the eleven year old imagine and enact a future. So does the internet, though mostly by making everything easier than it would have been back in the last century.

The story moves along at an easy, interesting real-life pace; the characters are fabulous! Most of us would have loved having a creative teacher into "cultural arts" like Mr. McInnis who'd relocated north from Mississippi for his first ever teaching job. I feel as if I'd met him, met Brittany and her Mom Maureen, had more than a brief conversation with many of the other people in the book. Emily Blejwas captures reader interest and credibility, too, with micro views into Brittany's world that rang true to my own experiences growing up and later working in inner city settings.

After finding herself busted flat in Baton Rouge, Janis Joplin tried to tell us "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose," yet freedom's really a way to claim agency, begin making choices that lead to building a future for yourself and your community. Once you know freedom... you'll be determined and powerful. No one will ignore you!

"Once you know this" isn't in the religious books category, although Brittany and Mom attend church in Chicago at least once, church ladies in their new Alabama home provide ample good eats. My Judeo-Christian tradition that affirms the Old and New Testament scriptures places a huge emphasis on freedom and obedience. Hebrew bible scholar Walter Brueggemann reminds us we celebrate the ten commandments with their bounded freedom and limits as "working papers" for life together in community. As I've mentioned not a few times on this site and countless times in the adult Sunday School class I facilitate, we discover the neighbor at the heart of Torah, we meet our neighbor as the focus of Jesus of Nazareth's succinct summary of the ten commandments into two: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself. At the end of that summary, the gospel according to Luke includes Jesus telling the lawyer "thou shalt live" if he follows the commandments. In short, God gifted us with commandments (ordinances, precepts, statutes, law, torah) so life might thrive and harmonize with Martin Buber's definition of love as "responsibility of an I for a thou." Brittany's Plan B worked to perfection, but back in the last century without internet, or any time during this one with internet almost everywhere, her plan wouldn't have happened without more than a little help from her friends and acquaintances. Once you know this reveals love in action. As MLK optimistically insisted, the arc of history bends in the direction of justice, and justice is where freedom, determination, power – and responsibility – live.

I'd love to see Once You Know This as a big screen or home screen movie—and I'd welcome a print sequel.

My Amazon Review: once you know... freedom!

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