Martellus Demond Bennett is a Super Bowl-winning tight end whose also known as the younger brother of defensive end Michael Bennett, who recently signed with his former franchise. While the younger Bennett has won acclaim for his activism and community service, Martellus is also the author of a brand new children’s book titled “Dear Black Boy”.
Recently, The Shadow League caught up with Bennett to discuss the book that has critics celebrating this work that centers on black boys during a time of great socio-economic and cultural tumult.
The Shadow League: What sparked the idea that brought this children’s book to life?
Martellus Bennett: At first it was an original poem about Alton Sterling in Louisiana but I didn’t have the words really know what to say. People were turning to me and my friends as leaders like ‘Man, we really need to have that conversation’ but I just didn’t know what to say and I was hurt by it.
Usually, when I don’t have the words to say I resort to my poems, so I wrote a poem. When I shared it with the world, a lot of people and a lot of guys hit me up and said they read it to their kids as a bedtime story.
I didn’t like the experience of them having to hear the poem off the web and reading it through white text. I wanted to elaborate so that they could read it to their kids and get a better experience.
TSL: They say art can be activism, but activism can never be art. What do you hope you can accomplish with this book?
MB: For me, I feel like I can change the world with my story since there are so many stories and so many books changing lives. One of the things I learned from my parents growing up was how important it is to be there. No matter what we were doing, my parents used the same energy to support it.
If I was in a football game, my parents were in the front row yelling in support. If I was in the symphony, my parents were right there cheering me on. They were just as happy for anything that I did.
That’s what I try to express to the youth. Like ‘Man, you’re supported in whatever it is that you pick up.’ You don’t have to feel like ‘If I go do this nobody’s going to be there to support me because nobody cares.’ And ‘So many people support the sports and the athletes, but what about us over here?’
TSL: In American society, artists aren’t as celebrated as they are in other cultures. Especially not when compared to professional athletes. What are you, as an accomplished pro athlete, trying to accomplish here?
MB: I want to talk to the kids who are thinking ‘What about us?’ to show them that they are supported, it is cool to be smart and it is cool to make things. Not only tell them but show them. I want to be the people they can look up and show them. I want them to think ‘If he can do this I can do it too’.
In my childhood, my parents being there is what inspired me to think differently and to feel like I could do whatever it is that I wanted to do. When my Mom said ‘You can be anything that you want to be’ I truly believed her.
TSL: Where did your writing ability stem from?
MB: I’ve always been an artist. Someone may have taught me how to play sports, but nobody had to teach me how to create. Now it’s just letting the art out.
A lot of athletes are fearful to let their art out because of the fear of being judged for trying something differen.
Some athletes can actually rap, and that’s a familiar art form to them. But when they start rapping, people are like ‘Awww, they can’t rap.’ There’s a lot of guys who do play sports that can rap very well. It’s like the duality of personality.
Just because you do this, then you can’t do that. People always want to keep you in one place. If you do this, then you can’t do that. I think that’s a barrier to being a true expression of yourself all of the time.
I fell in love with art at a young age watching Willy Wonka, and I always could draw.
One of the punishments, I got as a kid was my Mom would make me write stories when I did something wrong. The stories got more elaborate and more crazy. Then, it just became nonsense.
She never said anything about it. But, I just fell in love with it because I loved to write. Plus, I didn’t want to upset my Mom.
TSL: As popular as this book is bound to become, are you considering making it into a cartoon or perhaps writing a sequel?
MB: It’s always interesting because I think it might be one of those projects that stays in the medium that it’s in. Most of projects are multi-platform projects that I can see existing in a lot of places. But with ‘Dear Black Boy’ I might be fine with it just being a book.
This one entity that shares a story that everyone can have. Because the thing about children ‘s books is you can’t read them by yourself. You can watch a movie by yourself. But with this book I feel it’s something that the parents can unpack with their kids. So, they can read it together.
You don’t just hand a kid a children’s book. Most of them are still learning how to read. So, you sit down and read it to them. I think that’s where the power is, to explain what’s happening on the pages, to explain the context and teach while you’re reading it.
I want them to learn that they’re not in this race alone and that there’s a whole group of kids that look just like you who are running the same race. The key to the book is all the kids are helping each other and helping each other through the maze and I think that’s life.
I think, in the black community, we have to reach back to support one another and to help one another.