Although today’s generation of college students is far removed from the civil rights movement of the 1960s, race relations have returned to the forefront of the discussion in the enduring movement for social justice.
Canaan Kennedy, a freshman English and African-American studies major, has self-published his first book relating to race relations and growing up as a mixed-race person in the U.S.
Along with issues of race, Kennedy says he was given a well-rounded education both at home and school.
His first book, “Struggles to Victory — Over Racism in America,” was self-published this year. He credits his father’s commitment to his education, as well as his experience growing up in a biracial household, for the accomplishment.
As the son of a black father and white mother, Kennedy admits that people tend to look at him and recognize him as white. In the book, Kennedy recounts struggling with his identity as a child.
“For a while, I thought that being different than my peers was a bad thing because different is strange,” Kennedy writes. “Through these experiences and learning of my family’s history, I have learned to embrace my black side and to always strive to hold my head high when expressing who I am.”
Kennedy said he hopes young people who struggle with knowledge of their identity can find some common ground in the book’s focus. He said the book is comprised of interviews with his grandmother, mother and father, Adam, who has never been distant from the issue of race relations.
Kennedy said his father was randomly and brutally beaten by a police officer in Arlington, Virginia in 1991. After the officer charged his father with assault, he was acquitted and later won a civil lawsuit against the Arlington County Police Department.
Kennedy’s father and grandmother combined their written accounts of the experience into their own book, which was later turned into a full-length play “Sleep Deprivation Chamber.”
Kennedy said he believes America today still exists with the vestiges of more than 300 years of black-American oppression. He said it’s also the reason that stories similar to his father’s ordeal, which predated the beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles by about three months, are still common. This is what Kennedy said inspired him to write a book.
“I got the idea to write this book when Michael Brown was in the news. We’ve had over 250 years of slavery, 90 years of Jim Crow south. Race relations are not getting much better,” Kennedy said. “We saw this recently with the protests in Missouri, where students felt the university’s president was not representing the black community as he should have been.”
Kennedy admits writing a book is no easy task, although it does seem to run in his family. His grandparents have all authored books, and he said when he first decided to write a book as a 17-year-old, he looked to his family as models.
“I saw their published work and I wanted to have a book of my own,” Kennedy said, adding he was fortunate to have a grandmother who taught at Harvard, Stanford and Yale to help him learn about literature and writing.
“That taught me lessons that led to this book,” Kennedy said. “Balancing writing and high school was tough. Having patience was the hardest part.”
In the future, Kennedy hopes to become a professor of either English or African American Studies, or join the Diplomatic Corps and eventually become an ambassador.