Cambridge Forum: Deadly Double Helix
featuring DANIELLE ALLEN presenting
The Life and Times of Michael A.
September 20, 2017
7:00 PM ET
First Parish Church
1446 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138
Tickets required (details coming soon!)
Cambridge Forum is pleased to present DANIELLE ALLEN, Professor of Government from Edmond J Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard, to discuss her latest memoir Cuz. The book documents the events which conspired to cause the untimely death of her young cousin, Michael on the streets of Los Angeles in 2009. The book looks at the lethal combination of narcotics and street gangs which comprised the “deadly double helix” which ultimately killed her cousin and caused the incarceration of countless others like him. Allen asks if the current justice system only perpetuates the injustices it is meant to address?
The event will be followed by a book signing and all are welcome.
In a shattering work that shifts between a woman’s private anguish over the loss of her beloved baby cousin and a scholar’s fierce critique of the American prison system, Danielle Allen seeks answers to what, for many years, felt unanswerable. Why? Why did her cousin, a precocious young man who dreamed of being a firefighter and a writer, end up dead? Why did he languish in prison? And why, at the age of fifteen, was he in an alley in South Central Los Angeles, holding a gun while trying to steal someone’s car?
Cuz means both “cousin” and “because.” In this searing memoir, Allen unfurls a "new American story" about a world tragically transformed by the sudden availability of narcotics and the rise of street gangs―a collision, followed by a reactionary War on Drugs, that would devastate not only South Central L.A. but virtually every urban center in the nation. At thirteen, sensitive, talkative Michael Allen was suddenly tossed into this cauldron, a violent world where he would be tried at fifteen as an adult for an attempted carjacking, and where he would be sent, along with an entire generation, cascading into the spiral of the Los Angeles prison system.
Throughout her cousin Michael’s eleven years in prison, Danielle Allen―who became a dean at the University of Chicago at the age of thirty-two―remained psychically bonded to her self-appointed charge, visiting Michael in prison and corresponding with him regularly. When she finally welcomed her baby cousin home, she adopted the role of "cousin on duty," devotedly supporting Michael’s fresh start while juggling the demands of her own academic career.
As Cuz heartbreakingly reveals, even Allen’s devotion, as unwavering as it was, could not save Michael from the brutal realities encountered by newly released young men navigating the streets of South Central. The corrosive entanglements of gang warfare, combined with a star-crossed love for a gorgeous woman driving a gold Mercedes, would ultimately be Michael’s undoing.
In this Ellisonian story of a young African American man’s coming-of-age in late twentieth-century America, and of the family who will always love Michael, we learn how we lost an entire generation.
Walking from the Harvard Square T station: 2 minutes
As you exit the station, cross Mass. Ave. and look for the newsstand called Crimson Corner. Turn right and proceed north along Mass. Ave. going toward the Cambridge Common. You will pass the Harvard Coop, Bank of America, and CVS. The First Parish Church is located at the corner of Mass. Ave. and Church St. Please enter through the front door of the church.
For the past fifty years, Cambridge Forum has provided free public forums for the discussion of the issues and ideas that are shaping our world. From culture to technology, the environment to public policy, Cambridge Forum offers citizens vital information about the challenges facing contemporary society.
Forum programs, which are edited and produced for subsequent broadcast on public radio stations nation-wide, feature the nation's most noted thinkers, creators, social entrepreneurs, and leaders from the worlds of academia, business, government, media and the arts. Programs are held in Harvard Square with book sales provided by Harvard Book Store.
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