Martin Manuel hopes that by telling the story of his parents’ life, he can inspire others and offer an alternative perspective to negative stereotypes of African American families. Martin is one of 17 children born to James and Florine Manuel. The family moved to Urbana from Springfield in 1966, and they overcame adversity and faced hardships as they strove to raise their children in love and faith.
“It’s unusual because our story is not told,” Manuel said. “I don’t believe that we are unique by any means.”
He hopes that by telling the story of an ordinary family, he can provide a narrative that contradicts the negative way black families are often represented in the media.
The beginning of the book, titled “Manuel Strong,” tells of James and Florine establishing their life together.
“It talks about them building a home in Springfield and all the trouble they had,” Manuel said. “And they had plenty, but in spite of the trouble, they kept persisting and doing the best they could.”
His parents built their lives on a strong foundation of faith and instilled in their children the value of always doing their best.
“They were very resolute in teaching us values that were important,” Manuel said. They also strove to treat all of their children equally and not to show favoritism. Manuel said.
“My parents were amazing in that they were able to love us without overtly showing a preference for one over the others,” he said.
Manuel describes his father as “a hard-working man who, with an eighth-grade education, worked several jobs and managed to provide for the family most of the time.”
He recalls a brief period when, after the plant where he worked closed down, James struggled to support the family while he looked for full-time work. “The reason that story is important is because the truth is that many people who are struggling in this country are not so because they are lazy or unwilling,” Manuel said. “It’s because they’ve experienced something that put them in that condition.
“One way I think of the journey of African Americans in this country is that we always find ourselves having to walk uphill,” Manuel said. “Everything is more difficult for us. We have difficulty getting jobs even when we’re qualified.”
In the book, he recalls trying to join the military in 1963, just before the Civil Rights Act was passed.
“They made it difficult for me and I eventually gave up on trying to become a member of the military,” he said. “They didn’t want to give me what I was qualified for, even though I had a 2-year-degree in electronics.”
Manuel eventually started working for IBM.
“My career is laced with stories of me struggling against racism, but my parents instilled in me the value of always doing my best and always working hard,” he said. “It was on that basis that I was able to survive in the corporate world.” He believes that the same is true for his siblings, who have successful careers of their own.
Between Manuel and his siblings, their children and grandchildren, his family has 39 college graduates.
“If anything can be accomplished by this book it’s that it will help reshape the story of African Americans in this country,” Manuel said. “I hope that people who read it will see that there’s optimism in it for every human being. We all can accomplish extraordinary things if we have desire, drive and faith.”
“Manuel Strong” is available for purchase at Westbowpress.com and on Amazon. Manuel plans to attend several book signings in the Urbana area. The dates for these events will be announced on the book’s Facebook and Instagram pages.
Reach MacKenzie Tastan at [email protected]