Rise Higher

book review by Michael Hill 

Rise Higher, by local author Jesse Key, is a good book for students, middle school grades and above. A biographical story that carries profound meaning, Key’s memoir captures the keen observations of a bright and talented youth deeply affected by social conditions and by the natural rural environment.  It offers to students and teachers, insight to American history and the life experiences of African American youth in Southern States in the late 1940’s through the early 60’s. It is an excellent resource for motivating student achievement through African American cultural heritage. 

A short memoir  of a period in the life of Jesse Key and his family, Rise Higher tells the story of growing up in the Jim Crow South. It expresses the trepidation of dealing with the dominant culture of White supremacy, as well as the excitement and exuberance of a youth during the northern migration of African American families fleeing racist exploitation and violence.

 Jesse Key, an accomplished teacher, musician, visual artist and entrepreneur, shares in poignant detail, episodes of his life as a youth in Tupelo, Mississippi and later in Oberlin, Ohio. His story traverses the feeling and emotions of a child facing the challenges of social and economic injustice. As a youth arriving in Oberlin, he is mesmerized by the culture of education and social refinement of Central State College, a Historical Black College. The campus, the students and his unexpected encounter with the College President make a huge impression on Key.

Blessed with loving parents, Jesse was provided with a protective home environment of learning and discipline. He is nurtured to be a self-empowered learner and achiever. The book conveys the life lessons, skills, wisdom and values instilled by his parents. Southern African American family culture is presented in both its practicality of survival, and inspiration of achievement for a greater quality of life. Every Black parents dream, that their child will excel in life, achieving more than they, is realized in Rise Higher as Jesse and his siblings demonstrate a notable work ethic and character.

The book is a memoir and more. In four sections, Key presents his life experiences, images of his original paintings; historical information and a personal empowerment guide, for students, to gain life success. In both words and artwork, Key captures the natural environment of rural life, the beauty and bounty. It tells the reader of the share cropping conditions of the Key family, their hope in the northern migration; it also presents an aspect of the civil rights movement that honors the role of students in the movement.  

 Rise Higher is an encouragement of lessons learned and wisdom passed from one generation to the next. It is the hope of the author that the book will be an inspiration to students and adults, teachers and youth workers to engage in meaningful dialogue, motivating achievement, and embracing life values of humanity that are embedded in African American cultural heritage values.

For further information on the author, his writings and artworks visit: whatittakestolive.com