The Call to Serve: The Thomas Mann Jr. Story
by Senator Thomas Mann Jr.
Dreaming Big Publications

"But scars can also serve a purpose. They can paralyze or harm you and others if you remain unaware of them."

In a twenty-first-century society where racism is under a microscope, Mann's journey from the oppressiveness of the Jim Crow South to his role as a state senator and beyond is timely and eye-opening on many fronts. Singularly, the author's evolution from a childhood picking cotton on a Tennessee farm to the Iowa Senate is compelling and carries the narrative. The insight into the world of politics is icing on the cake.

For the most part, Mann's early childhood is punctuated by constant fear, a fear so gripping that even making eye contact with a white man is forbidden by his grandmother. The scene that becomes seared into the audience's mind is Carrie Maclin instructing her family to cross the street if their paths meet that of a white man. As the opening line of Mann's story, it is truly haunting, first for the dissent and havoc that a differing skin tone can wreak, and second because one can raise the question of whether anything has really changed with race relations in seven decades. Even today, how many Grandma Carries are out there giving the same talk to their loved ones in light of the racial climate that has defined the United States in recent years?

The author's mission, at its core, is to meet human needs through social, economic, and political equity while helping to eradicate arcane systems like segregation. Nevertheless, another scene as the piece progresses into Mann's college years at Tennessee State University (TSU) shows a continuation of this racist sentiment. While the author is sitting in the bleachers of a gymnasium, taking in a basketball game, members of the football team order him to move. Claude Humphrey, as the author suggests, likely saves him from being roughed up or worse. Perhaps what's most intriguing about Mann's overall work are vignettes like these. Everything stated within the text is verifiable and delivered with an air of authenticity that makes Mann's journey incredibly endearing.

While systemic racism and a determination to educate the public on civil rights issues is central to Mann's objectives, a chance encounter during law school graduation with Richard Turner, Iowa's attorney general, paves Mann's path to becoming Iowa's assistant attorney general. From this point forward, Mann continues to excel in maximizing opportunities and even translating failures as success in disguise. Though the author is simply narrating his story, he is an inspiration to all who have faced obstacles, a testament to the notion that being a "man of compassion, persistence, and conscience" (as his colleagues described him) will yield positive results. From the trials and tribulations of practicing law, magnified by State vs. Pilcher, to his hometown in Tennessee taking back his certificate of passing the bar, nothing about Mann's journey has been easy. However, it is within these challenges that Mann's character shines.

Comprehensive in nature, the narrative includes sections dedicated to his courtship with his wife, Leala Ann Salter, the uphill climb to the state senate, and discussions of committee assignments, gun control, and handicapped rights, among other things. As accomplished as Mann is, the words that come to mind to describe him and his work are raw and humble. His passion for family, commitment to his word, and dedication to compassion and kindness make him larger than life, making his narrative an absolute must-read.

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