Paul Coates was an enigmatic god to his sons: a Vietnam vet who rolled with the Black Panthers, an old-school disciplinarian and new-age believer in free love, an autodidact who launched a publishing company in his basement dedicated to telling the true history of African civilization. Most of all, he was a wily tactician whose mission was to carry his sons across the shoals of inner-city adolescence—and through the collapsing civilization of Baltimore in the Age of Crack—and into the safe arms of Howard University, where he worked so his children could attend for free.
Among his brood of seven, his main challenges were Ta-Nehisi, spacey and sensitive and almost comically miscalibrated for his environment, and Big Bill, charismatic and all-too-ready for the challenges of the streets. The Beautiful Struggle follows their divergent paths through this turbulent period, and their father’s steadfast efforts—assisted by mothers, teachers, and a body of myths, histories, and rituals conjured from the past to meet the needs of a troubled present—to keep them whole in a world that seemed bent on their destruction.
With a remarkable ability to reimagine both the lost world of his father’s generation and the terrors and wonders of his own youth, Coates offers readers a small and beautiful epic about boys trying to become men in black America and beyond.
Coates’ struggle is a battle between different black cultures in Baltimre. He must decide t either fllw his father, and e-Black Panther, devted t the fight fr black rights and preservatin f heritage, r the emerging hip-hp culture,
Coates’ book is many things: a tribute to his demanding, disciplinarian father (a steely, larger-than-life figure who in the pages of the book is as blunt as he is an enigma) as well as an homage to the complexities of the communities that he grew up in — in and around Baltimore as well as the metaphoric idea of “black community” itself — and to the various definitions of family, of love, of “support system.”