Monday, September 4, 2017

Real Conversations on Race

For Sciacca, Meals from Mars is more than a story; it’s his life. He serves as executive director of Restoration Academy, a Christ-centered private school in one of Birmingham’s poorest neighborhoods. Each day Sciacca teaches and mentors young black men, empathizing with their experiences, feeling their pain, and refusing to give simple answers to complex problems.


Malik paused. “Did it ever occur to you that people from my neighborhood are scared about rollin’ up on your neighborhood?”

“Whatever,” Jim replied. “When’s the last time someone has had their head bashed in by some thugs in Stone Brook? When’s the last time someone had their car stolen at gunpoint when they were filling up their tank?”

“Robbery and thugs ain’t the only things to fear. There are other things people like me gotta worry about. Stuff you wouldn’t understand.”

Most people enter discussions of racial injustice like they’re entering a gun fight: heavily armed. Their weapons are statistics, experience, and a bevy of opinions and solutions. A new novel titled Meals from Mars: A Parable of Prejudice and Providence helps to de-escalate the conflict. Written by educator Ben Sciacca, this book will benefit not only his high school students in Fairfield, Alabama, but also suburbanites and those in between.

Meals from Mars opens with guns drawn on the two protagonists, Jim and Malik. We see blood, police lights, and a young black man shot by police. This is an unfortunately familiar narrative today, but Sciacca gives us the story behind the headlines—the story about the incredibly complex lives involved in this scene: Jim, Malik, and the law enforcement officers sworn to protect and serve.

Usual Suspects

Jim, an affluent, churchgoing white man from the “right” side of the tracks, is a Good Samaritan. He delivers food to a poor family on the “wrong” side of the tracks. Malik is an 18-year-old black man who lives with his grandmother in her apartment. She sends him out to buy ingredients for Thanksgiving dinner. Trouble quickly ensues. The lead on the case, MarQuan Cole, is a neighborhood kid turned professional detective. He finds himself at the intersection of violence perpetrated by blacks and the disrespectful white world he’s obliged to protect and serve.

These men’s worlds are on a collision course that ends with a young black man shot, a suburban white man forever changed, and a black cop in conflict.

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