Tour de Force


This entry went up on December 30, 2008. It’s going up again because the book is now out in paperback. Everyone needs to buy it and read it.

Not long after I began reading Tina Brown’s powerful account in Crooked Road Straight: The Awakening of AIDS Activist Linda Jordan, I thought about my dear friend Vera Johnson, a retired funeral director from New Britain, Connecticut. She may have been the first African American woman in the state to hold a funeral director’s license. Vera was elderly, but she always looked perfectly dressed and coiffed. She wore white blouses with black skirts, sometimes a bright purple hat. And she loved the color red, red skirts, red suits.

My mind traveled to Vera as I read the story of Linda C. Jordan because Vera had stopped driving out of town when I met her about ten years ago, so I would take her on errands. Whenever we reached the highway, she would say, “May the Lord make the crooked way straight,” except she said, “Make the crooked-y way straight.” She repeated her prayer until we left the highway.

While Vera prayed for a straight road, Linda Jordan created one. Tina’s engrossing narrative will leave readers at once wrung out and inspired. Linda was abused as a child, exploited as a teenager, addicted as an adult, but she pulled her life together and became an advocate for African Americans, and black women in particular, in the HIV/AIDS community at a time when most people thought the disease afflicted only white gay men.

On the surface Linda and Vera had little in common. Vera was solidly middle class and a lady to the core; Linda was “street,” raised in poverty by alcoholics. But Linda and Vera shared one trait. They were survivors, given courage and hope by their faith in God. After her husband’s death, Vera sank into a deep depression. She nevertheless managed to hang on even as her neighborhood slid into disrepair. She maintained her oasis, installing a chain link fence, which she kept locked with a padlock. For personal protection, she bought and trained two big German shepherds. She continued to attend church and kept track of friends in her community.

Linda, living in far more dire circumstances a few miles away in Hartford, not only hung on, she flourished once she came to terms with what had happened in her life. Tina, my friend and former colleague from the Hartford Courant, weaves all the threads of Linda’s story into a tour de force. At times Crooked Road Straight is painful to read because of the harrowing details of the life of this young woman who never really had a childhood, became a mother far too young, and generally lacked the support of family to help her through the pitfalls of being young, poor, and black. But Tina focuses on the uplift as well, writing with compassion how Linda overcame her addictions and developed the courage to speak out on behalf of people who were ostracized and struggling with their own addictions and illnesses.

Tina writes in the “Prologue” that she wondered why she continued to live and work in Hartford, a city that seemed to offer her little. While she wondered,Tina was giving to the city, as she wrote many award-winning articles for the Courant and opened the eyes of folks in the suburbs to the pain of the city. She also contributed through her church, her sorority, and the Links. She received the answer to her question of “Why here?” when she approached Linda about writing the book and began to dig even deeper into the coping mechanisms of people who felt they had no means of escape from their prison. Tina found and served her purpose by telling Linda Jordan’s story. Tina, too, has done the Lord’s work by making Linda continue to live within the pages of this awe-inspiring book.

In the end, both Linda and Vera survived because their faith in God offered them solace. They both made their own crooked way straight. It is a sad irony that they passed away less than a year apart, Linda at the relatively young age of 53 and Vera at a venerable 88.

This review also appears on Amazon.



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