Road to Barrister: An Urban Monologue is a straightforward coming of age memoir by Yusef Poole, an Atlanta attorney who writes about his educational journey from grade school to law school in order to give young readers the benefit of his wisdom.
Poole grew up in Connecticut, in the urban community of New Haven during the 1990’s, when several Black neighborhoods were taken over by notorious drug trade and violence. In Road to Barrister, Poole recounts his unlikely journey from that perilous environment to the other side of town, where he entered the hallowed halls of Yale University, (earning a B.A. degree in Sociology), then to the University of Connecticut, School of Law, where he earned his J.D. degree. "The title of this book should have piqued your curiosity," Poole tells young readers, alerting them that reading is an interactive activity--reading and using the dictionary, "so don't be afraid to work that highlighter," he says. Poole’s story is made all the more appealing by his upbeat personality and conversational style aimed at the youth he has devoted his life to mentoring.
Like a good mentor, Poole doesn’t just tell his personal story, but he uses episodes in his life to share lessons that young people can apply to their own lives. Each chapter opens with a motivational quote: Chapter Two titled, The Plan, begins “Confidence is a crucial component for achieving success” and Chapter Five, Love and Basketball, instructs readers, “Don’t worry, Start Dreaming and Finish Hard.” Beyond the chapter headings, Road to Barrister offers generous helpings of advice throughout and, for those who want to cut to the chase, the appendix titled, “Lessons for Success,” is a cheat sheet summarizing the advice found in each chapter.
As a youngster, Poole asked himself a life-changing question, “What can I do to get where and what I want in life?” Guided by that question, he approached life by making decisions to put himself in positions to succeed, despite personal challenges such as the emotional void left by an absent father; difficulties being raised by a single mother; serious asthma that interrupted his school life and benched his basketball heroics; being bullied on the neighborhood basketball court, and lackluster grades that resulted in his being dropped from prestigious AP track classes in middle school.
However, just like his role model Michael Jordan [who practiced hard in order to look effortless while cutting and slicing down the paint, dodging opponents, and driving to the hole] young Poole had to work to achieve the success he now enjoys. In his own way, he maneuvered around difficulties that cropped up in school, family matters, friendships and romance, single-mindedly determined to reach his goals. He wants young people to know that the road is not easy, but that they can do it, too.
Poole is no prodigy, and along the way to his destination, young readers will appreciate his honesty about his fears and shortcomings that sometimes tripped him up. Yes, he’s a regular guy—like most of the young people who will read his story—but he distinguishes himself by his a personal decision to apply himself so that he could be successful. It helped that while a youngster he was turned off by media scandals surrounding megastar Black athletes or entertainers who ended up in bankruptcy. Determined to avoid such public and personal catastrophe, Poole decided early to be both successful and academically prepared to handle his business.
That conviction is a major strength of Road to Barrister. The book is not just another urban tale; it is a humorous monologue—think comedian Chris Rock’s voice-overs narrating the action of his weekly hit cable show, Everybody Hates Chris. Poole jokes and laughs at himself with the reader: “True friendship is like fine wine,” he says, “[i]t’s hard to find, gets better with time and can last a lifetime. (You gotta appreciate my lyrical gift in that last sentence. … Did I mention that I wanted to be a rapper. …Not!)” This metacommentary from Poole reflects his primary purpose to engage young people, while using his life as a basis to drop knowledge (that’s “share some wise thoughts” for those who need the translation).
Though he overcame a lot of obstacles by his own steam, Poole’s story points up how he benefitted from his deep personal faith and the influence of a strong extended family, especially his maternal and paternal grandparents who provided stability to his fragmented home life. Similarly, his access to extracurricular programs through elite schools, such as Choate Rosemary Hall and Yale, added exposure and leadership responsibilities that gave Poole confidence during his high school and college years. Poole acknowledges that some of his cohorts in grade school might have been steered in a positive direction if they had just had the opportunity to participate in these structured programs.
Ultimately, Poole wants to empower young people to take as much responsibility as possible for achieving their goals.
“I could have been anything I desired. … I chose the path to be an attorney,” Poole writes in his introduction. He challenges youth to believe in their own ability: “Now you choose, constantly reminding yourself, that if I did it, so can you… .”
Although Poole’s coaching is heavy handed at times, it is not unlike the constant nudging of a big brother who relentlessly sheds his advice to siblings or youngsters in the neighborhood. The upside is that the constant drumbeat of positive encouragement will help young people to find their rhythm at a crucial moment in their lives.
Road to Barrister is a handbook of personal insight and inspiration for young people seeking their way in life—a worthy guide that parents, teachers and youth group leaders should feel confident to pass on. It is Poole’s desire that his story serve as motivation for any reader, not restricted by age, who is on a journey or needs the motivation to get going. Road to Barrister accomplishes that goal.
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