A dinner with Maya Angelou sparked the idea for Shawn Schwaner’s autobiography.
“You should write a book about it,” Angelou said in the spring of 1988 at Denison University.
Twenty eight years later, the book became a reality.
Schwaner, a North Campus professor for the School of Justice at Miami Dade College, published his autobiography, Dear Mama: Lessons on Race, Grace and the Wisdom To Overcome, on March 26.
Just a year ago after giving a sexual assault speech at Kendall Campus, Schwaner, 50, knew it was time to finish his autobiography. He started writing quotations for the book in March of 2014.
“It took me about eight months, since I put the first word down, until the book was out in Amazon,” Schwaner said. “It was a hard process.”
Born in Toledo, Ohio, Schwaner’s mother faced confrontations as a poor pregnant woman, until she met Bertha Lee Green. Schwaner tells how Bertha Lee Green, also known as Mama Green, helped get his mother her own apartment. During this time, Mama Green and Daddy Green took care of him for the majority of time after his mother returned to work.
Mama Green was one of the people who helped Schwaner by teaching him strength, moral development and character.
Through his storytelling Schwaner shares 51 chapters of his life that have molded him into who he is today. Revealing his emotions and sharing stories wasn’t hard for Schwaner but processing the emotions, discussing issues of sexual abuse and the outcome of his own self-esteem became a challenge.
The book is littered with tales of torture and torment. In one example, Schwaner recounts how he was once surrounded by an intoxicated street gang on an abandoned bridge. He was able to escape without harm. In another encounter, he was accosted by a group of hooligans who started beating him and urinated on his leg.
“Though rare, these type of incidents happened enough to allow fear and suspicion to permeate everyday life and everyday attention,” Schwaner said. “ I mean, I was chased down the street by a man who threatened to crush my skull with a sledge hammer and another man who threatened to skewer me with a pitchfork. Though I never knew when threat was going to present itself, it was always present. For Pete’s sake, I slept with a gun under my pillow from 1974-1980, it was all pretty scary…Ironically, there was a lot of love, respect and care present as well. I would never trade my childhood for another one. It made me who I am today, and students benefit in ways that I cannot imagine.”
Despite the negativity, Schwaner had a very happy childhood thanks to the support he received at home. In two of his chapters he retells the story of the first time he encountered moments where Mama Green showed him that the color of someone’s skin doesn’t matter as long as you love people for who they are and not their skin color.
Schwaner has started outlining three more novels. The books will deal with depression, childhood trauma, and using sports to overcome and battling internal conflicts.
His students are inspired by Schwaner’s life story.
“[He is an] amazing professor,” said Jessenia Fernandez, a public safety management major with a concentration in criminal justice, who has taken four classes with Schwaner. “He has changed my outlook [on] life. I’m grateful to have met him.”
Schwaner attended Maumee Valley Country Day School from preschool to high school. Then, he went to Denison University where he earned his bachelor’s in sociology and anthropology and received his master’s degree and Ph.D. from Ohio State University.
“Phenomenal story of perseverance and cultural adversity,” said Raimundo Socorro, the director of the School of Justice, about Schwaner’s autobiography. “I think everybody should read it.”