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Each one, teach one is a phrase from my childhood. Always, it was in association with the black community; a kind of close-knit striving to bring every person out from the abyss of isolation and fruitless struggle. In this phrase: hope, determination, looking back at a dark history, leaning forward toward success, the idea that each individual has value, despite society’s contrary claim.

I haven’t been that little girl for a long time, eavesdropping on grown-up conversations about the-way-things-are when I should have been sleeping or minding my own. Each one, teach one and it’s cousin, each one, let one (uttered by my mother on the highways of New Jersey when one car refused to let another merge), had virtually disappeared from my lexicon. Lucky for me, other people have better memories.

Snowy branches and leaves

Yes, Chef, the memoir of chef Marcus Samuelsson, born in Ethiopia, raised in Sweden, cooked his way through Europe and landed in America’s famous Harlem, surprised me by cracking open the black experience and laying bare his impressions. Samuelsson’s succinct summary of why so few high-end kitchens employ chefs of color (and women of any color), his brown-outsider’s experience of racism in Sweden, the US and aboard, his desire to contribute, his vulnerabilities, eccentricities, drive and artistry all impressed this reader. Though perhaps I was most moved by his respectful recounting of each one, teach one, pulling it from the past into the future.

No Crystal Stair was another surprise excursion through the heart of black American history. This fictionalized “documentary” by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson shows its effort in the best way; I could feel the hours spent researching -the phone calls, the sudden dead-ends, the victories- in Nelson’s account of her great-uncle, Lewis Micheaux, owner of the famous National Memorial African Bookstore, also of Harlem. Again each one, teach one painted a central theme in the life of Lewis Micheaux, who contributed via his passion for reading, for understanding, for bringing people along.

Snowy boughs in the Arboretum

My mind likes to create connections. Perhaps it’s just human. Unearthing the same theme in two books I chose at random -coincidence?