By Dylan Deprey
As Khalil Coleman finished up the first draft of his creative writing assignment, he had no clue he was crafting an emotional tool kit. As the professor kept delaying the due date, he kept writing and revising.
He reflected on his life and the friends he had lost to gun violence in Milwaukee. He eventually told the coming of age story of two inner city boys, B and K, and their awakening to the economic and societal issues in their community.
One of the boys’ mother worked long hours to provide a better life for him, but lost a relationship with him in the process. Another loses his best friend to the hands of a police officer. They talk to the guys standing on their block and start to really wonder if other people inside and outside of their community actually care about them.
Over the course of two years Coleman passed out copies to inquiring coworkers while employed as a surgical greeter at Aurora Sinai. He eventually self-published his first novel, “A Time & Place in the Life of B and K,” in 2010.
As part of his Changing Lives Through Literature program, the book also had a supplementary curriculum based around the social justice issues in the book that prepares students for civic engagement projects.
After a year of teaching the curriculum, Coleman danced with the idea of continuing the story from a minor character’s perspective in the first book. He eventually decided to share Keylanda’s story.
Coleman officially released, “A Time & Place: Keylanda’s Story,” on Nov. 12, 2018.
“It took me about five years to actually have it completed, so for the most part it was a lot of manifestation and digging into my spirit about what happened next,” Coleman said.
The second book revolves around Keylanda, a neighborhood girl that one of the main character’s consoles in when their friend is killed by a police officer. It is told as a continuation to B and K, as Keylanda picks up the flag as an activist in her community.
“Keylanda is dealing with this trauma and she eventually takes the lessons from the classroom and takes them to the streets in her community,” Coleman said. “She uses this energy to really become an activist and stand for what B&K wanted in the first book.”
He said that the story is very relatable to the inner-city youth in Milwaukee because many have experienced the same issues.
“People in general aren’t interested in reading about things that don’t affect their everyday life,” Coleman said. “Young people need culturally relative material that applies, and not just racial but also social relevant material. When it applies to everyday reality, they are able to visualize their circumstances, visualize their reality and come up with some alternatives.”
The curriculum is designed for anybody to teach, and includes chapter and critical thinking questions, journal reflections and group discussions. Coleman has been a private contractor with MPS and has used the book.
“As the teacher is facilitating this book and curriculum, they are able to ask the necessary questions to get young people thinking and get them prepared to do a civic engagement project,” Coleman said.
Since he officially released the book, nearly 500 books have been sponsored by individuals and local organizations. He is now in the process of delivering books to sites. He is also searching for new sites to give them away, but also to create conversations based around the book.
“Whether it’s a mom who lost her son to gun violence, or a teacher trying to give instructions, or even the people on the block, it gives them different outlets,” Coleman said. “The book is really supposed to be a toolkit from the community perspective.”