The auditorium of sophomores at ASPIRA Olney Charter High School erupted with applause and loud cheers when M.K. Asante, award-winning author of Buck: A Memoir, walked down the aisle toward the stage.
The students had recently finished studying Asante’s book in their English classes, and now the author, who grew up in Philadelphia, had returned home to talk to them about his troubled childhood, the struggles he faced, his careers as a writer, rapper, and filmmaker, and using life as a basis for writing,
For the teachers and students, Asante rapped and spoke in lyrics, as the students nodded to the beat of his words.
Gwynae Seegars said, “My dream and a lot of other kids’ dreams [who grew up in Philly] is to get out of the hood and make it big – like Asante.
“But having him come back to Philly and speak to us inspired me. You can’t forget where you came from, because how and where you start is more important than the journey and the end.”
Asante, who now teaches creative writing and film at Morgan State University, a historically Black school in Maryland, grew up in the Olney section of Philadelphia and struggled as a teenager. But he slowly began finding his identity and self-worth through writing and reading literature. Buck: A Memoir is about Asante’s survival in seemingly impossible circumstances, how he educated himself through the streets, and how he changed his life with a pen and a single blank sheet of paper. With poetry and lyrics woven throughout the memoir, Asante tells a redemption story that is grounded in rhythm, positivity, and authenticity.
The 10th graders at Olney spent weeks poring over his memoir and related the stories in it to their own lives. Students talked about their lives after reading Asante’s inspirational book and wrote their own short memoirs that were later compiled into a clipbook as a gift to the author. As a result of this literary exercise, Olney now celebrates March 2 as “M.K. Asante Day.” Teachers said that they hope to keep Asante’s memoir in future lesson plans because of its authentic language that captures the essence of Philadelphia.
Chris Reiley, an English teacher, said that his students enthusiastically responded to the memoir, and many wanted to keep the book to share with their families. Asante donated and signed a book for every 10th grader.
Marie Woodward, also an English teacher, said she was thrilled that the students could meet the author of a book they diligently read and studied for weeks. Some family members of the students also attended the event.
It’s exciting "not only for 10th-grade students to meet the author of the book they've just finished reading, but also for family members to join their children and school faculty during a school day to celebrate the hard work accomplished and to learn more from the inspirational author who wrote Buck,” said Woodward.
Students even prepared a video that includes their favorite quotes from the book, pictures of them reading it, and personal statements about how the memoir influenced them.
At the end of his talk, Asante held a Q&A with students, who were desperate to learn what happened after the last chapter ended. Where did his circle of friends end up? Did he marry his then-girlfriend? But Asante chuckled at these cliffhangers and said that the sequels were up to them.
“The sequels? Books 2, 3, and 4? Those stories belong to you guys! I wrote this book to exist for you guys,” said Asante.
“Each person in this room has a great story to tell. Pick up the pen and write about your own lives, your struggles, your successes. One day, you’ll inspire someone sitting in these same seats you once did.”