Michael Allen and Gilbert Allen talk about “Brotherly Love”

After Michael Allen and his brother Gilbert read an article about their unique life story that made a splash in a small town newspaper, the brothers made a pact to tell their experience in their own way when they felt the moment had come.

That moment came last year with the release of “Brotherly Love,” a children’s book that Michael, who is now the principal of Oakton Elementary School in Evanston / Skokie School District 65, and Gilbert wrote together. The book centers on the story of the brothers who grew up as black men in poverty with drug-addicted parents and who became principals and social workers.

“I remember growing up and not being able to go to libraries and buy books of characters who look like me,” said Gilbert Allen. “Michael and I wanted to make our voices heard as people of color to help young people know that there are other people going through similar things and to give them hope.”

While the entire book is rooted in fact, the full context isn’t always there – something that will change in the couple’s next young adult novel, where they plan to delve deeper into the concepts they introduce into. “Brotherly Love”.

After being instructed to focus on athletics rather than academics as he grew up, Gilbert Allen said he believed it was important to show young black children examples of blacks as a scholars.

For Michael Allen, their story is one of black love and the sacrifices they made for each other because of it, he said.

“This is why we speak openly about systemic racism – naming it, giving it space and recognizing it impacts all of our lives,” he said. “We hope that young people can figure out how to take hope out of the sky and put it on their tables and seats, just making it very tangible for them so that they can navigate and find their true purpose in life.”

Gilbert Allen said that as part of the book centers on how his brother adopted him legally when he was 15, the story can also affect many foster parents or people adopting children, Showing them that their sacrifices did not go unnoticed.

“I didn’t see African American men sacrificing like that, at least I didn’t see the world airing it on TV or in books,” said Gilbert Allen. “I found it super fascinating, and it’s one thing that motivated me when I was going through difficult times in my life.”

Throughout the novel writing process, Gilbert Allen said the brothers were able to learn more about each other. He said he had reflected on the difference between their feelings and views and how best to support each other, which at times proved difficult.

Michael Allen said the best part of the experience was having the opportunity for him and his brother to create a legacy together. But sometimes it was difficult for him to step back from the older brother role and force himself to recognize that Gilbert’s voice was equal to his own, he said.

For both brothers, however, the highlight of the whole experience was sharing the end product with their mother, who was in hospice care and passed away in December, they said. Gilbert Allen said she was so proud that she insisted on buying a copy from each of her siblings and refused to take just one for free.

Norea Hoeft, the brothers’ publicist and unofficial communications manager, said she was impressed with how the book brought the two together, especially in the last moments of their mother’s life.

“Especially at this time when a lot of people are going through loss, especially in communities of color, seeing them come together as families and go through this time with a lot of grace has been a healing for me,” said Hoeft.

The brothers stressed that the book is not just for young black children – it is for everyone, whether they are part of a marginalized community or seeking to understand the experiences of others.

“We wanted to make sure that vulnerable and marginalized people of all kinds, every group of people that humanity has been robbed of, know they are loved and valued,” Allen said. “They have something important to offer to the universe and the world depends on it, so we want them to know that they have permission to be their real, authentic selves, despite what might be happening in their reality. today.”

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Twitter: @rebecca_aizin

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