Lewis Diuguid’s “Our Fathers: Making Black Men” Honors His Father’s Legacy
I grew up in one of those urban neighborhoods that did so much to shape successful black men in America. Located on the northeast end of Kansas City, Kansas, the block I grew up in was bookmarked on both ends by black-owned businesses. On the southwest corner was a mom-and-pop record store where I purchased 45s by the Isley Brothers and Chaka Khan. It was also a candy shop and sometime beauty parlor. Across the street from it was an old, rickety apartment house where prostitutes sometimes turned tricks on the back stairs. On the northeast corner was an old, greasy garage where the wooden floors seeped oil when you walked on them and cutouts of “Jet” Beauties of the Week adorned the walls. Across from it was a large building that held The Playboy Club, a barber shop that seemingly was open all night long, and some other businesses that I was too young to understand.
Our block was filled with hardworking but rough-around-the-edges black men. My father worked in a car shop. He left before light in the morning and usually got home way after dark. Across the street was a man who worked on the railroad. He sat on his front porch, talking to himself and throwing rocks at any unfortunate stray dogs that dared cross his manicured yard. A few houses down from him was a mutton-chopped black detective with a large family who once ran out some drug dealers that attempted to set up shop on the block. Next door to our house was the family of a man who drove a petroleum truck. He wasn’t black but he worked himself half to death just like the other men. Up the street was a sweet, older family whose son had been captured and viciously tortured in World War II. Harry, the son, was a nice man but mentally unable to hold meaningful employment. He lived in the tiny basement of his parents’ house with a succession of large, rowdy dogs. He had strong arms and would put neighborhood boys in a headlock, promising a few coins if they could break out. Nobody ever did.
It was in this neighborhood of hardworking, sometimes hard-drinking, and brutally honest black men that I was raised. Polite and courteous to women and girls, these men were bluntly honest with us about the realities that faced us as black men in America.
While the stresses of life ended most of their lives long before their white counterparts, their legacy lives on in my life and the lives of the other boys that grew up on the 2000 block of North 13th Street in Kansas City, Kansas.
“Our Fathers: Making Black Men” by Lewis W. Diuguid perfectly captures the spirit of neighborhoods like these where the futures of so many successful black men were shaped.
It is the story of his father, Dr. Lincoln W. Diuguid, a chemist. Told against the backdrop of Lincoln’s slow recovery from a horrible act of unprovoked violence, it describes his courageous story in creating and nurturing DuGood Chemical Company in St. Louis, Missouri.
Diuguid brings us something that took place in black neighborhoods across America, but is mostly absent from books, plays and movies. Diuguid tells this with pragmatism, not mincing the words or sparing us from blunt descriptions of the despicable and pervasive racism, both individual and systemic, that his father, family, and his father’s business faced. Nor does he shy from discussing the seedier aspects of some of the personalities and the inherent inner-city dangers of the neighborhood where DuGood was located.
Dr. Lincoln Diuguid was more than just a dedicated family man and hardworking business owner. He was also a devoted teacher of life-survival skills to the impressionable young black men in his community. Diuguid brings this out, vividly describing how his father used the everyday challenges of running a successful business to teach practical lessons on manhood and self-empowerment to the young men he hires in his shop.
If you are familiar with Diuguid’s writing from his previous books and his years as a columnist for “The Kansas City Star,” you know his eloquent word invites readers in and transports them into the subject he is writing about. This book does not disappoint. I read it twice and both times I lost track of time and could almost taste the very atmosphere where the events took place.
There is tragedy too, as there is in any human story. Diuguid does not hide the sadness of aging. Lincoln’s wife battled Alzheimer’s and, as mentioned above, one of Lincoln’s acts of kindness resulted in him being the victim of a vicious and unprovoked violent attack. However, Diuguid shows us that the beauty of the human spirit always transcends the tragedies of the human experience.
Finally, one of the most important things I found is that Diuguid drives home the point that successful black men are not the result of social welfare programs, marches and protests, or tax dollars poured into inner city programs. Rather, successful black men are the products of other dignified black men who, despite their flaws, are willing to share the lessons they have learned with these young men. As reflected in the book, the lessons are not always pretty, politically correct, or without vulgarity. However, the lessons always ring of the truths that black men must embrace if they want to be ready to pursue their destiny.
Selected for the 2017 Philip C. Chinn Book Award by The Awards Committee of the National Association for Multicultural Education, this book is a must-read for anyone who works with young black men or is even the least bit curious about the black male experience. Honestly, it would deeply benefit anyone in a teacher-training, social work, pre-law or counseling program.
As the son of a blue-collar black man, I could warmly relate to the interactions between Dr. Diuguid and the young men under his charge. As the father of an adult son, this book inspired me to be more cognizant of passing on the lessons I have learned. As a teacher, it motivated me to look for more teachable moments with the young men in my classes. Finally, as an artist, I was inspired to think more deeply on my work and its relationship to black masculinity.
As a black American, I was reminded by this book that the battle against economic and social disenfranchisement is not won in voting booths and legislative hearings, but is won through individual relationships among those striving for equality and those determined to fight for them.
In this ode to true black manhood, Lewis W. Diuguid shows us just how much power is harnessed and progress is made when people step out of themselves to create and nurture individual relationships with those who are just finding their way in the world. This is Dr. Lincoln W. Diuguid’s true legacy and I, for one, am grateful to his son, Lewis, for sharing that legacy with us.
Lewis Diuguid will speak at 6 p.m. March 27 at the Kansas City, Kansas Public Library West Wyandotte Library, 1737 N. 82nd St., Kansas City, Kan. Diuguid will speak about his book, “Our Fathers: Making Black Men,” and offer suggestions about writing a memoir.