Cuz: The Life and Times of Michael A.

It's not an uncommon story: a young black man gets in trouble with the law and takes a public defender's recommended plea to avoid a stiff sentence. After a decade in prison, he returns to an unfamiliar world as an adult unable to assimilate and support himself. Another arrest, another ticket to prison--and so it goes, until he is either killed or ends up serving a sentence extending long into old age. For Michael Allen, the endgame was a violent death on a street in Los Angeles at age 29. But in his case, he had help from his older cousin Danielle Allen, a high-achieving elite college dean who clawed her way up from similar working-poor family roots. She observes, "There was no one else. Someone's always gotta be the safety net, and it was my at bat."

With her considerable resources and resolve, Allen guided Michael through enrollment and financial support at Valley Community College, helped him secure a job at a local Sears warehouse, led him through the DMV maze for a driver's license and found him an affordable studio apartment near his job and school. Cuz is her story of Michael's short life and her failed attempt to save him. As Allen (Education and Equality, Our Declaration) shares memories of growing up with Michael, she speculates about what went wrong. How did she earn advanced degrees and professional success while he got busted for an attempted carjacking?

Very personal, Cuz sheds light on an environment that creates too many tragedies and not enough triumphs--too many Michaels and not enough Danielles. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

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