I am so honored to receive the 2017 Global Ebook Awards Silver Medal for my debut novel, Bishop’s War, in the Suspense Fiction category. Thank you to all the judges and to all who’ve helped and supported me throughout this incredible journey. I am truly grateful.
The great grandson of slaves, he was born in Panama, and later raised in the mountains of Jamaica. He grew up barefoot, cutting sugarcane, and hauling firewood and bananas down to the coast until he finally saved enough to buy his first pair of shoes at age 18. With new shoes and big dreams, he made his way back to Panama, and within 2 years became a professor at the local university. He then applied to NYU, won a scholarship, and arrived in New York’s Greenwich Village in 1952. While attending classes he waited tables, performed in off-Broadway shows, wrote several screenplays, sang in Village venues, and cut an album. After graduating he became a NYC public high school teacher in East Harlem.
Teacher by day, actor and singer by night, in the early 60’s he became heavily involved in the civil rights movement. Angry at systematic racism that directly impacted Blacks and Latinos across America, and increasing frustrated by the slow wheels of change, he was determined to do more than just continue to attend rallies, march, and write petitions. He started with what he knew: the arts and teaching.
The institutionalized oppression of minorities was also deeply embedded in educational system and he set out to improve it. He started by writing short biographical plays (Martin Luther King Jr., Louis Munoz Marin, John F. Kennedy, and many others) that his students would then act out, and from there the fuse was lit. His students came alive. They wanted to know more about history and writing, and most of all they wanted more of his books/plays.
Each day after work he put all his energy into developing a curriculum designed to engage and empower inner-city minorities who were either failing or dropping out of school in record numbers. He wrote twenty more plays and then added workbooks to create a true core reading and literacy program which he aptly named Teaching Reading Through Drama.
His next challenge was production. Undaunted by being rejected by every publishing house he approached, he decided to turn the tables and do it all himself. With his meager savings he purchased a small printing company on West 25th St and then created his own publishing company.
Difficult as it was to leave his students, he stopped teaching and went out on the road to tackle the Board of Ed. Through the strength of his will, his charisma, his never give up mentality, and the power of the Teaching Reading Through Drama program he soon won contracts in NYC, Baltimore, Washington DC, Chicago, and LA. After becoming the embodiment of the American dream as a successful Black-Latino businessman, he faced new challenges. The mafia came after him with guns demanding kickbacks, and the police, fire department and building inspectors all threatened to shut him down if he didn’t add them to his payroll. He faced them all with bat in hand at his front door, refusing to give in, back down, or pay a single dollar.
Despite the success of his program, the Board of Ed made massive spending cuts in the early 80’s and keeping his company afloat became more and more challenging. He finally decided to close up shop and reinvent himself by becoming a restaurateur and club owner. West Indian quinine and head-lining jazz musicians like Bennie Carter, Ahmad Jamal, Patato Valdez, and George Benson performed downstairs while he wrote and directed plays in the upstairs venue.
After 12 years in the night club business he went full circle and decided to return to his first love: teaching. He remained a NYC school teacher, mentor, and advocate for change within the Board of Ed until his death in 1995.
Who was this amazing man?
His name was John A. Hines (everyone called him Juan), and I’m proud and honored to say he was my father.
Love always Dad
At the IAVA (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America) Heroes Gala at Cipriani’s last night I sat and listened to the incredible speeches and testimonials from IAVA president and founder Paul Rieckhoff, General David Petraeus, the reigning Miss USA (and Army captain!) Deshauna Barber, and the gold star wife who brought everyone to tears when she described the day she was making care packages with friends to send to soldiers in Iraq when she was notified that her husband had been killed in combat that morning. Throughout it all the common theme was that veterans and their families need our help.
It’s great to honor our soldiers and thank them for their service and sacrifice, but it’s simply not enough. As IAVA board member Leslie Gelb stated, “With the exception of a brief period after World War II, American veterans have been consistently mistreated and neglected for 240 years!”
Every politician, Democrat and Republican, wants a photo op with a hero in uniform, but then they resist making the policy changes needed to give our veterans what they need and deserve.
So as we honor and thank the men and women who have served in the United States Armed Forces, think about the 150,000 troops currently deployed overseas, think about the 6 soldiers who were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan this past week… and then pause and think about the 20 veterans who will commit suicide today because they couldn’t get the proper help and treatment that might have saved their lives.
There are a lot people fighting to change our policy of neglect towards our veterans and the IAVA is one of them. Paul Rieckhoff and everyone at the IAVA are on the front lines making a difference and ultimately saving lives.
You can too! Get informed. Get involved. Find out more here.
I’ve been blessed to have shared so many incredible moments with friends and family throughout my life, but last Saturday will always stand out as one of those unforgettable nights that I wish was recorded from start to finish so I could replay it over and over again. Here’s what happened:
Martin Sierra, a great friend and my personal hero, invited me to his house for drinks. (For those of you who don’t know, Martin is a fellow NYC LES native who joined the Army with his son in 2001. Since 9/11 he’s had multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and was awarded the Bonze Star as well as numerous other medals.) So I’m expecting a few beers and a couple of rounds of pool in his man cave, but when I walk into his house it’s packed with friends, family and Special Ops soldiers he’s served with and they’re all standing, clapping and cheering. When I realized that the applause was for me and they were all there to celebrate the success of my novel Bishop’s War, I literally stood there frozen. The moment was overwhelming and as I realized what Martin and his beautiful and amazing wife Pepsi had done for me, I had one immediate goal: Don’t Cry! Not only did they invite everyone there, they made poster-sized blow ups of the book cover (and my author pic!), they set up a table with microphones where Martin interviewed me and had me do my first book signing! Pepsi even hired a pianist and a bartender, and cooked up a spectacular feast.
No one has ever done anything like this for me before and my description doesn’t come close to capturing how special it was. It’s also very humbling to receive praise from these true heroes who selflessly serve our country and will soon be leaving home for another year.
Thank you Martin and Pepsi Sierra for giving me a night that I will never forget.
God bless you and may he protect you all while you’re gone and bring you home safe and sound.