Losing My Cool: How a Father's Love and 15,000 Books Beat Hip-hop Culture

Image of Losing My Cool: How a Father's Love and 15,000 Books Beat Hip-hop Culture
Release Date: 
April 28, 2010
Penguin Press HC
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?“More than anything else I wanted not to disappoint my father.” So speaks the heart of a young man, who uses that lifeline to struggle between two worlds: one, a world of a biracial family distinctly self-labeled “black,” with a fundamental respect for learning and books, and a constant call to become something significant; the other, an inner circle, tight and restrictive, intoxicating and violent.

Which would Williams choose? Why did he have to choose? Did he, in fact, even have a choice? These are just a few of the questions this young man struggles with as he learns to define himself, not by the external but by what is within.

It is the story of Thomas Chatterton Williams, named, purposely so, for a famous 18th century British poet. He started his life with much more privilege than his father, affectionately called “Pappy” by his sons. But even though Thomas attended private school, he at first dabbled in and then embraced the hip-hop culture—its music, its clothes, its styles, and habits. All his friends moved within that world with him.

Despite immersion in that lifestyle, it remained distinct from his home experiences—the daily study sessions with his father and brother, respect for such long-ago philosophers as Plato, and inspirational learning about figures such as Dr. Martin Luther King. Separate, that is, until college appeared on the horizon.

What seems most distinctive in this account of a young black man’s journey to adulthood is an honest, raw depiction of the street life and realities of the hip-hop culture, one that those in mainstream America might find foreign and unfamiliar. At the same time, the authenticity of his early experiences is likely to draw in anyone, from the hip-hop culture or otherwise, who dares to pick up this book and read it.

With this sometimes shocking, always crystal clear backdrop, Williams steps into a larger realm that further confuses and challenges him. This one includes a diverse group of characters from all walks of life in a university environment and is increasingly focused, not on a rejection of “blackness,” but on an affirmation to reclaim what is a human, honorable, joyful, and affirming approach to life.

As Williams takes his next life steps, he confirms an approach carved from his own experiences and the influence of an ever-present father. The effect of a parent has long arms. Williams affirms an understanding of the importance of learning “how to interpret and navigate the world around us,” so young and old, from every walk and every race, “stop confusing the shoes on our feet or the songs in our ears for ourselves.” That’s an affirmation worth spreading.

At its essence, Losing My Cool is an eye-opening celebration of life and its potential, and a call never to squander it, no matter where you come from.