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Tag Archive: Amistad


Review by C.J. Bunce

Young Leland Melvin wasn’t the type of kid who dreamed about flying in outer space.  But he was guided by good parents and developed the right stuff to work for NASA for more than a quarter of a century that culminated in two space shuttle flights to the International Space Station.  Melvin has written his memoir and it has been published in a version for kids and a version for adults.  Harper Collins and Amistad Press’s Chasing Space is a book that every school library should carry, a book kids should read to understand that you can be anything you want to be.

Melvin credits a good mind-set for his ability to adapt to new situations and succeed in whatever he put his mind to.  But even with hard work, life manages to get in the way sometimes.  Unforeseen circumstances stopped him in his tracks at several points in his many pursuits, including college, where he was almost expelled for an alleged ethics violation.  In high school football he made a mistake that his coach allowed him to redo, resulting in him getting a scholarship to college.  His girlfriend and he were pulled over and a racist police officer tried to get him thrown in jail.  He played football for the Detroit Lions, but a recurring hamstring problem knocked him out of the sport.  He got another chance at football, this time for the Dallas Cowboys, but his leg stopped him again.  Only after returning to graduate school work did his career in science take hold, and once he graduated NASA was practically waiting for him.  But his pathway to space was tripped up by a problem with his ear while training.  And despite it all, and being one of the first African-Americans to forge a path where few had gone before, Leland Melvin worked hard, mentally and physically, and overcame everything thrown in his way to become one of only 550 humans to leave the planet and become an astronaut.  He is known by many as the astronaut that had his formal NASA photograph taken with his two dogs, Jake and Scout, who would later join him and Cesar Millan on an episode of Millan’s Dog Whisperer show.

The Space Shuttle Atlantis with Leland Melvin (left) and crew of STS-129.

Melvin flew on the Space Shuttle Atlantis during missions STS-122 and STS-129 and worked closely with astronauts that were lost on both the Challenger and Columbia disasters as well as current astronauts like Peggy Whitson and Suni Williams, who have continued to set new records in space aboard the International Space Station.  In Star City, Russia, Melvin worked closely with and trained alongside former Navy SEAL Bill Shepherd–the famed astronaut “who knew how to kill somebody with a knife”–as Shepherd prepared for the very first long-duration flight by an American and becoming the first commander of a crew based at the International Space Station.  Melvin even helped Russian scientists translate tech manuals into English in Moscow.  Surprisingly astronaut training for Melvin included extreme survival training and adventure hikes across America and giving talks around the world, learning to stretch the boundaries of his own abilities.  When one of his crews was without a medical officer, he volunteered and trained to add that role to his list of duties.  He spent months stitching up cadavers and working on emergency room patients to be ready for any kind of emergency in space, training under the eye of famous skilled surgeon Dr. Red Duke, the doctor that had admitted President Kennedy and Governor Connally at the Dallas hospital in November 1963.  All these seeming tasks and trials are not obvious things the average person thinks about when they hear the word “astronaut.”  Yet all prepared Melvin to be able to think on his feet should a problem occur, and that according to Melvin’s account, is the way of astronaut training.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Darryl McDaniels–he’s the DMC of the trio Run DMC, known for its team-up with Aerosmith on the band’s cover of “Walk this Way,” plus hits like “Tricky” and more.  He’s the King of Rock, sold 30 million albums, made rap and hip-hop the popular music genre it is today, and he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  But he doesn’t count any of those things as his most important personal accomplishment.  In his memoir, Ten Ways Not to Commit Suicide–A Memoir, McDaniels reveals in a personal and down-to-earth way the trials he has faced despite his money and career success, leading to alcoholism and debilitating depression.  Despite its “Ten Ways…” title, it’s not his version of a twelve-step program as much as an insightful self-help book that doubles as an autobiography.

McDaniels’ story is deep and dark and yet he uses his story to motivate those around him and his writing reflects this generous sharing of failures for others to learn from.  McDaniels was a middle class, self-styled geek, raised in a good family, successfully avoiding the gangs and violence of New York City as a kid, and by the time he was out of his teens he was a superstar.  As a kid he loved comic books and he loved to draw.  “Growing up, I’d always been a comic book geek.  I loved to draw superheroes almost as much as I liked to read about them.  Comics were an escape, a way to make myself feel strong and invincible rather than like the quiet little four-eyed nerd I essentially was.”  But his venture into comics wouldn’t happen until much later.  He jumped on board with two neighborhood kids from Queens as they used turntables and rhyme to create a new music niche in the mid-1980s.  All those kids wearing high-top sneakers with no shoestrings?  Run-DMC also set a new fashion style for a generation.  And McDaniels infused comic book concepts into his songs along the way.

McDaniels in 2014 talking to fans at Planet Comicon, one of his many comic convention visits.

But McDaniels says he always felt something missing, and he often turned to alcohol to escape.  Ups and downs and assistance from family and friends allowed him to break through it all and come out on top, but not easily.  In one of his best stories he recounts the backlash early on that he received because of his band’s instant fame–even beyond other established rap heroes.  Members of his favorite band–Cold Crush–dissed him and Joey “Run” Simmons backstage at a show, but rather than be brought down by it, he saw it as an indication of success.  But by McDaniels’ account, Run’s dominance in the band left him without a role after a few albums, and alcoholism would literally take away McDaniel’s voice.  After he thought he was past the alcoholism, he would find himself returning to drinking whenever a life crisis presented itself.  A key event was discovering he was adopted, learned after a conversation with his mother while working on documenting his life story.  He would go on a reality show and track down and ultimately find his biological family, which introduced even more confusion for his mental state, but it was also his pathway for getting help from a therapist and rehab.  Inspiration to get help and move forward surprisingly also came from the soothing music of Sarah McLachlan, and his story of her role in his upward climb is now well-known.  They eventually recorded an album together (I discussed it here at borg.com after meeting McDaniels at Planet Comicon back in 2014).  It’s a great story and he recounts all the details in his book.

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