Today's feature is the mystery thriller novel Lakeside University Cover Up by Charles Taylor.
During his virtual book tour, Charles will be giving away one copy of his beautifully illustrated book, Kwanzaa: How To Celebrate It Your Home. To be entered for a chance to win, use the form below.
Dr. Charles "Chuck" Taylor, author, speaker and diversity expert is one of the leading voices in diversity education today: www.drcharlestaylor.com. He is currently a Professor in the School of Education at a small private Liberal Arts College in the Midwest. Although he has written over a dozen books, Lakeside University Cover Up is his first novel. Dr. Taylor has also written ROARrrr-a full-length children’s musical play; Decade of Discontent, a highly acclaimed documentary about the Milwaukee, WI Civil Rights movement; and continues to serve as a national consultant in the areas of diversity and inclusion
Welcome, Charles. Please tell us about your current release.
On a cool, autumn evening, the Lakeside University community was shaken to its core by a cross burning on the front lawn of a house rented by two African American students, Gloria Wilson and Ashante Melashe. Gloria’s trust in fair play is shattered when campus officials call the incident a harmless prank. However a glimmer of hope is restored as black and white students rally to her side in a series of protests to force the administration into conducting a full investigation. Undaunted, the administration devises a divide and conquer scheme that creates a rift between black and white students. As the mistrust grows the campus stands on the verge of a racial explosion. Campus leaders, seeking a way out of the crisis turn to Dr. Wendell Oliver, the country’s leading expert in diffusing racial tension.
Dr. Oliver suspects there is more to the cross burning that the administration is willing to reveal. He also believes that the students are the key to resolving the crisis if he can get them to work together. He takes the feuding students to a wooded campsite off campus for a weekend retreat filled with action, danger, sexual attraction and racial conflict. One of the pivotal moments occurs when Dr. Oliver asks everyone to pair up with someone of a different race and spend substantial time together. He helps students look beyond themselves, stretch their own boundaries and discover the secret behind the cross burning. They learn that the cross burning is more than just about racism. Its wicked flames shed light on corrupt cops, complicit college administrators and misguided attitudes that point to a major cover up. When students piece the puzzle together, justice is finally served but it comes with a steep price. Lakeside University will never be the same again.
What inspired you to write this book?
My work with college students and their idealism and belief that they can tackle our deep seated racial challenges. I’ve taken white students and students of color on weekend retreats and watched the transformation that takes place when students allow their true feelings to emerge. Lakeside University Cover Up provides a framework for discussing and evaluating the response to a racially motivated “hate crime” on a college campus. It is the “perfect teaching tool” allowing students to analyze the role of each character and discuss how they would handle a similar racial incident on their campus. Lakeside University Cover Up provides a very dramatic, yet real example of what it means to build an inclusive and socially just campus. The lessons displayed in the story can be applied to any institution and can serve as a catalyst for real change in campus policies and climate.
The nightmare started almost immediately. In the dream, Gloria looked out a window into a deep fog, as a bright light drew closer. In the mist she saw a silhouette of a woman nailed to a cross. She saw figures dressed in white robes. Their taunting was shrill and harsh. She got close enough to see the woman’s face. It was Ashante. Gloria looked again, and her own face looked back. She felt like she was burning inside and looked down to see flames surrounding her.
The ringing of the telephone startled Gloria awake.
She grabbed for it with one hand, wiping sweat from her forehead with the other. "Hello?" she said, her heart pounding in her throat.
A male voice answered. "Is this the house where the cross was burned tonight?"
In her sleepy confusion, Gloria thought the caller might be the campus police, finally following up on the crime. "Yes!" she said, relieved. “Who is this?”
"I—I'm not sure why I'm calling. But what they did was terrible,” the caller said. “You have to understand that's just how they are. It was nothing personal.”
Gloria sat up, instantly alert. But she kept her voice calm; afraid the caller would hang up if she sounded too excited. "You know who did it?" she said.
"I know what I know," the caller replied. "But, that’s not why I’m calling. I just wanted you to know it's not like everyone on campus is racist or against black people. Some of us just get caught up in shit and before we know it, it's too late."
"Can you tell me who did it?” Gloria asked.
"It won’t do you any good."
"Why not? They committed a crime. They should be expelled. They should be arrested." Gloria heard the urgency in her voice and struggled to control it.
"The university won't do anything," the caller told her. "As far as the police are concerned, this is just a big waste of time.”
"Could you at least tell me your name?"
"No way. I've told you more than I should have already. Mea culpa, mea culpa. I gotta go."
And the phone went silent.
Gloria ran to wake up Ashante. She called her name and even shook her, but received no response other than light snoring. Then she noticed the bottle of sleeping pills on the bedside table. She went into the kitchen for some water and drank it slowly as she worked up the courage to look out the front window. A car cruised by, its headlights dimmed, and she recognized the campus patrol car. She felt reassured for a moment, but then her eyes were drawn to the circle of scorched grass where the cross had blazed just hours before. The glow from the streetlights revealed just enough to bring her anger rushing back.
"Why?" she asked aloud. "Why would they do this? Why us?" Her questions reminded her of Sgt. Thomas and his callous attitude.
"I guess we did do something to provoke them," she whispered to the night. "We were in the wrong place at the wrong time, with the wrong skin color."
Gloria shivered, even though it was warm inside the house. She couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was watching her. Despite her brave words to her parents, she really wished she could go home. She couldn’t remember a time when she had been so frightened. She wrapped her robe tighter and retreated to Ashante’s room. She climbed into bed next to Ashante, shivered again, and huddled close to her friend, trying to push her fear away long enough to fall asleep. As the impact of the night’s event hit home, she was once again reminded what racism was really like and how much it deeply hurt.
What exciting story are you working on next?
I’m working on a non-fiction reference directory: Guide to Multicultural Resources. I’m also working on a film about people working in a housing project that have created a model for reducing poverty and closing the academic achievement gap. It’s a story of hope and accomplishment.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Not until I became an adult and published a national newspaper for college campuses covering news by and about students and scholars of color.
Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I’m an educator. I’m a full-time college professor by date and in addition to doing a great deal of academic writing, I love to write fiction, plays and scripts. I just have to fit it in during the evenings and weekends.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I don’t know if it’s interesting but I have to listen to music when I write. I especially like listening to Luther Vandross. His music moves me emotionally and that tends to lead to better writing on my part.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
It changed a lot but I always wanted to be involved in education and that’s what I’ve been doing most of my life.
Anything additional you want to share with the readers?Never surrender your dreams. If writing is something you seriously want to pursue, then go for it! You have to treat it seriously, put in the time, learn your craft and continue to improve.
Thanks for the interview!