Interview: Micah Dawanyi on His Recently Published Memoir, Black Lives Matter and More
Author and activist Micah Dawanyi on his recently published memoir, the Black Lives Matter movement and more
Hi Micah! To begin with, would you mind telling our audience a bit about you and your work?
My name is Micah Dawanyi and I’m an author, producer, speaker, and nationally licensed sports coach. I’m originally from Baltimore, Maryland, but I’m now based in South Florida, where I attend Nova Southeastern University for health science and psychology.
Usually when I introduce myself to new audiences, what seems to stand out most to people is that my work is spread across many areas. However, regardless of the subject, my main goal is always the same: to educate, enlighten and empower the people.
When I was growing up, I was – first and foremost – an athlete, and honestly the world of athletics consumed most of my time and attention. However, after suffering a series of medical issues, I was forced to quit sports when I was 15. No longer having to attend practice, travel for games or watch highlights to prepare, I found myself with a huge amount of free time. This led to me being able to pursue new hobbies and widen my scope. I got involved with my school yearbook program and eventually became a head writer, overseeing the underclassmen students and at 16, I earned my first national sports coaching license and began to embark on a journey in the world of sports through coaching and training. It was also around this time when I began to pay attention to what was going on in the world in terms of social issues. This “awakening” of sorts led to my desire to incorporate activism into the different career fields I would decide to work in.
Recently, you published your book, Step Into My Shoes: Memoirs From the Other Side of America – an insightful and timely novel about your experiences as a Black man in the U.S. What was the inspiration behind writing the book, and what have the reactions been so far?
To be honest, the main inspiration behind my book was a feeling of frustration. Although I am a positive member of society who is respectful and hard-working, because of the color of my skin I am often faced with discrimination and prejudice. And, in feeling frustrated by that, I decided to open up and express how I felt in a series of memoirs about my life. I started working on the book in 2018. However, in the Summer of 2020 I decided to release it as a response to the Black Lives Matter protests that were going on in the U.S. I felt like it was important for my story to be heard at such a critical moment in time.
Throughout the memoir, I use storytelling because I want readers to be able to feel the severity of the issues Black Americans face. Too often, we scroll past posts or articles about social issues and we act like nothing is happening. This book is a way for people to step into the shoes of Black America, to feel and understand what is going on at this pivotal moment in time.
So far, the reactions to the book have been extremely positive. Because of my background in sporting, many people didn’t know I could write, so they were surprised by the way I was able to put together this body of work. A lot of people have reached out and told me that my story resonates with them, which is really nice to hear. One of my favorite responses was someone who said: “Micah, you’ve put what I’ve felt for so long into words that I couldn’t quite have described myself if I wanted to.”
Is there a particular message you want readers to take home from your book?
When I was designing the cover art for my book, I used shoes that are a bit worn down. This symbolizes how I as a Black person feel battered down by the racial and social injustice that my people face. But the message doesn’t end there.
A closer inspection of the shoes on the cover of the book show that they aren’t battered to the point of no return – they are damaged, for sure, but they can be fixed. I want people to understand that although things have and continue to be rough, we will stop at nothing to move into a brighter future. One of the things that I wanted to include as part of the book were ways we can change.
And that’s why my book also includes what we can do better as we move toward the future. I want people to understand and be motivated to do better when they read my book, because we all play an important role in bringing change in society.
Following George Floyd’s death in May of last year, the Black Lives Matter movement has entered the international spotlight. Protests, demonstrations and marches have occurred worldwide – organized by incredible Black activists and their allies. Do you believe BLM has helped propel forward the fight for racial equality, and if so, how?
I think BLM has been helpful in highlighting that racism and social injustice in America are both massively prevalent and, at this point, undeniable. Even though the issues raised by BLM have been talked about for centuries, it took the massive demonstrations of last summer for the world to finally understand what Black folks have been going through, in regards to discrimination and racism.
I do think that the BLM movement has helped propel forward the fight for racial equality in many ways. I’ve seen more conversations being had about racial inequality and people are starting to unlearn many of the racially problematic things they believed in the past, beliefs that continue the cycle of racism in our country.
I’ve also seen money from major businesses start to be allocated to Black-owned businesses, HBCUs (historically Black colleges), etc. I even read that New York ended qualified immunity for their police departments. (For those who don’t know, qualified immunity is a legal provision that protects many police officers from facing consequences for their violent actions against civilians).
So yes, I’ve definitely seen progress with things like this, but I also don’t like to get in over my head: some of the activism in the BLM movement appears performative and not genuine, so I’m still weary of that.
Apart from writing, you’re also engaged in public speaking and activism, among other things. What have been some of your most memorable engagements/achievements thus far?
One of my most memorable achievements was winning my city’s Martin Luther King Jr. award in 2018. I won it for my activism efforts in the coaching world, specifically my private training business that I set up to serve underfunded and typically minority-based communities. Many sports academies have a history of financially exploiting communities of color, so my training program was made to combat this issue. Winning that award in 2018 came full circle this year when I had the pleasure of being a keynote speaker for Martin Luther King Jr.’s holiday. I was able to speak to high school and middle school students in my region about my book and the important legacy of MLK today.
As one of my fields of study is psychology, I’ve used my education to tackle issues relating to mental health in communities of color. Last year I had the chance to speak on National Public Radio (NPR) about race related trauma and mental health in the black community, which was a huge blessing. To know that so many people were able to hear my message really made me happy. I was also able to speak at a men’s mental health conference for young men of color in the state of Florida – which felt like a continuation of my speech on NPR and the subjects it tackled.
Finally, how can those interested purchase your book and support your work?
You can find my book, my audio series (based around my book), some of my interviews and speaking engagements, as well as social justice projects that I’ve been in on my linktree: https://linktr.ee/micah19. You can also just search my name and the title of my book on Google or any web searching platform, and you’ll find me there as well!