*Green River College's 2018-2019 One Book Selection*
Standing on the stage, I felt exposed and like an intruder. In these professional settings, my personal experiences with hunger, poverty, and episodic homelessness, often go undetected. I had worked hard to learn the rules and disguise my beginning in life...
So begins Born Bright, C. Nicole Mason's powerful memoir, a story of reconciliation, constrained choices and life on the other side of the tracks. Born in the 1970s in Los Angeles, California, Mason was raised by a beautiful, but volatile16-year-old single mother. Early on, she learned to navigate between an unpredictable home life and school where she excelled.
By high school, Mason was seamlessly straddling two worlds. The first, a cocoon of familiarity where street smarts, toughness and the ability to survive won the day. The other, foreign and unfamiliar with its own set of rules, not designed for her success. In her Advanced Placement classes and outside of her neighborhood, she felt unwelcomed and judged because of the way she talked, dressed and wore her hair.
After moving to Las Vegas to live with her paternal grandmother, she worked nights at a food court in one of the Mega Casinos while finishing school. Having figured out the college application process by eavesdropping on the few white kids in her predominantly Black and Latino school along with the help of a long ago high school counselor, Mason eventually boarded a plane for Howard University, alone and with $200 in her pocket.
While showing us her own path out of poverty, Mason examines the conditions that make it nearly impossible to escape and exposes the presumption harbored by many—that the poor don't help themselves enough.
Mason, executive director of the Center for Research and Policy in the Public Interest, a Manhattan-based women's foundation, approaches the topic of poverty in America from an insider's perspective. In this raw and intimate memoir, Mason takes readers from her childhood in California to her acceptance at Howard University, chronicling her struggle to break through the boundaries and limitations of growing up poor. Born in 1976 to an unmarried teenage mother, Mason loved learning, and school became her anchor in a volatile, violent, and ever-changing world. The family often moved from place to place, her young mother's marriage to a drug dealer bringing even more danger and disruption into their lives. As the author entered her teens and felt the dire need to escape her mother's abusive partner, she was welcomed by her grandmother in Las Vegas. Her circuitous course reveals the ongoing challenges involved in confronting the barriers of poverty and the pervasive risks of drugs, teen pregnancy, abuse, gangs, and racism. Along the way, Mason discusses the malfunctions of the criminal, legal, social services, and education systems, offering the alternative solution of a new, tiered system of family support. Mason vividly illustrates the grit, determination, and "herculean effort" necessary to reframe a young life steeped in unyielding poverty.
Brilliantly written and thought provoking! As an advocate for social justice, I deem this a must-read. Statistics are never enough. What are the stories, circumstances, etc.?
Born Bright sheds a light on the reality of poverty while offering solutions for families.
Two thumbs up, C. Nicole Mason!