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Listening, learning: A journey

I thought I knew. Love, respect, kindness, understanding. Justice. But I learned a lot this last year. Indeed, it completely floored me how much we all have to learn, how much there was to explore, how much wasn’t talked about, how much we need to listen. Powerful, important stories. It became clear that this cultural journey, this Moment, was about long-tolerated and accepted norms, how changes to American culture won’t happen without significant work.

While some progress has been made in terms of awareness, I, for one, am determined to continue that journey of listening, learning – indeed, to unravel the knots, one loop at a time, and dig in. So, to celebrate Black History Month, I challenge you all to join me in exploring some of the great Black authors, both modern and historical, who have shared their stories in books.

If 2020 taught us anything, it should be how far we still have to go in understanding the struggles of our Black community and how very much we have yet to learn. Books and movies have always transformed us, placing us in the stories of our imagination. We may choose to use Black History Month to gain more understanding and, I hope, that we'll each continue that journey throughout the new year, and take these lessons into our daily lives. Moment by moment. To check ourselves and each other. Fostering a safe, kind and respectful community for our staff and our tenants is essential, and listening and learning is a big part of that.

So, with that, I offer you my take on Ten Good Reads, by Black authors, featuring both fiction and non-fiction, and I encourage you to explore them throughout the rest of the year, and maybe into next year! Some are iconic classics that warrant a revisit and, I suspect, you’ll find their messages resonate just as strongly, perhaps even a little louder, today. Others are new with powerful narratives framed in today’s world. Here’s my list, along with quotes from each:

  1. John Lewis, Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement (1998)

    “I believe in freedom of speech, but I also believe that we have an obligation to condemn speech that is racist, bigoted, anti-Semitic, or hateful.”

  2. Isabel Wilkerson, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents (2020)

    “In our era, it is not enough to be tolerant. You tolerate mosquitoes in the summer, a rattle in an engine, the gray slush that collects at the crosswalk in winter. You tolerate what you would rather not have to deal with and wish would go away. It is no honor to be tolerated. Every spiritual tradition says love your neighbor as yourself, not tolerate them.”

  3. Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845)

    “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

  4. Michelle Obama, Becoming (2018)

    "Now I think it's one of the most useless questions an adult can ask a child-What do you want to be when you grow up? As if growing up is finite. As if at some point you become something and that's the end."

  5. Dr. Martin Luther King, Strength to Love (1963)

    “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

  6. Maya Angelou, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings (1969)

    “If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat. It is an unnecessary insult.”

  7. Langston Hughes, The Return of Simple (1994, a collection of writings, some previously unpublished, dating from the 1920s to the 1960s)

    “Don't you believe in nonviolence?' I asked.

    "'Yes,' said Miss Minnie, 'when the other parties are nonviolent, too. But when I have just come out of a funeral parlor from looking at a little small black boy shot three times by a full-grown cop, I think it is about time I raised my pocketbook and strike at least one blow for freedom.”

  8. Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon (1977)

    “Her mind traveled crooked streets and aimless goat paths, arriving sometimes at profundity, other times at the revelations of a three-year-old. Throughout this fresh, if common, pursuit of knowledge, one conviction crowned her efforts: ...she knew there was nothing to fear.”

  9. Marlon James, The Book of Night Women (2009)

    “Hate and love be closer cousin than like and dislike.”

  10. Colson Whitehead, The Nickel Boys (2019)

    “We must believe in our souls that we are somebody, that we are significant, that we are worthful, and we must walk the streets of life every day with this sense of dignity and this sense of somebody-ness.”

Neil Cadman is the president and owner of Cadman Group, a boutique commercial real estate firm located in El Segundo, California. Learn more at

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