By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
Former Chicago Bear and NFL Pro Bowl tight end Martellus Bennett made a whirlwind media tour of his former city to promote his new children’s book “Dear Black Boy,” this week.
Along with a bunch of interview spots on television and radio, Bennett felt at home as a storyteller in three readings over Monday and Tuesday — at Carter G. Woodson Library on 95th Street, 57th Street Books in Hyde Park and Open Books in the West Loop — where he engaged parents and enthralled kids of all types for a book that comes from a very specific place.
Talking to WARR at 57th Street Books in Hyde Park Monday evening, Bennett talked about returning to Chicago and the culture of creativity and blackness here, a type of vibe that he has reveled in while promoting his book, which he did at that event with local blogger and influencer Jenny “Mama Fresh” LeFlore.
“Chicago at one time was a place of the Black Renaissance,” Bennett told WARR. “Its been very great to come back as a black author and creator because people kind of understand it…they understand the Renaissance of the Blackness that goes into the art and the craft I’m trying to share with these stories.”
In speaking to the crowd at 57th Street, LeFlore stated the value in young Black readers seeing an author who looked like someone they could see more regularly in their life, a message that Bennett aligns himself with consistently through the projects he produces through his Imagination Agency.
“Dear Black Boy” is a title that may seem restrictive to some but the book and its author have a lot to say to all kids about resisting boundaries and restrictions society places on people of all ages and backgrounds. But definitely this book, written in the wake of the violent summer of 2016 where Philando Castile and Alton Sterling were each murdered by police, is designed to help black boys value their creativity and make them feel more welcome to actively change the often hostile world that surrounds them.
The book’s origins come from a piece Bennett wrote while he was still an active athlete in 2016. As published in the “Players Tribune,” Bennett sought to directly inspire those who might have felt the most psychic damage from the ongoing reporting and harsh discussions centered around the police-involved murders of Castile in Minnesota and Sterling in Louisiana.
“Exercise, Black Boy, Exercise! Exercise your right to speak your mind, to pursue happiness, to seek peace and prosperity, to avoid conformity imposed by the small minds of society,” Bennett wrote.
The initial letter written three years ago is basically updated in the book and laid out in a Dr. Suess-like manner with stanza’s strewn about on every other page, sharing space with images that Bennett imagined and drew up himself.
Bennett, who retired from the NFL in early 2018, borrows from the language of athletics and competition to inspire young minds who have only been used to seeing him in a certain context, but Bennett revels in his current role as a creator and feels that it is in this chapter of his life where he will make a greater difference than he ever would as a Bear, Cowboy or Patriot.
“Everyone ties me to this one thing I did when I’m really trying to come out my cocoon and become a butterfly,” said the one-time “unicorn” at 57th Street Books.
“Football was a side hustle to empower myself to do what I’m doing now full-time. Football is great if (a) kid uses it as a tool — but not too many kids use it as a tool, they let football use them as a tool.”
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR