If you've read Issac "Ike" Bailey's work-on CNN.com, Politico or social media-you know he's not afraid to challenge readers to think more critically about important issues of race, crime, politics and social justice. An editorial review of his book, "Proud. Black. Southern. (But I Still Don't Eat Watermelon in Front of White People)," says his insights "defy orthodoxy, but not merely for the sake of being different or provocative."
"I want people to feel uncomfortable when they read my work, but not attacked," he said. "I don't think there is real growth in comfort, so I try to open up a space for people to see the world in new ways." The 1995 Davidson graduate who held a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University in 2014 didn't always have such a voice. A stutter, worsened throughout his childhood following violence in his home, has been a constant battle in his life.
"Even though I grew up in the South, poor and black, my stutter has been a much greater challenge for me than race," he said. "I've never been directly turned down or had to miss out on an opportunity because of race, but it happened multiple times based on my stutter."
Bailey recalls requests to appear on major news and radio stations, conversations that started over email. Once they spoke with him on the phone, they decided to go a different direction. What his stutter gave him, however, is the invaluable ability to empathize. To read Bailey's writing is to understand his innermost passions, fears and lessons learned. Bailey's 7th grade teacher, Mrs. Shiver, helped him discover his love for writing, despite his self-proclaimed "awful handwriting." She saw her student's gift and understood this was a way he could have a voice when speaking didn't come easy.
The Davidson College experience nurtured the passion, although his college days were not void of struggle. Bailey's very first class at Davidson-the institution he selected after former head football coach Dave Fagg '58 picked him up from his home in South Carolina and drove him to campus-is one he'll never forget.
"I was the only black kid in this one class," he said. "I got a 48 on my first test, and I was scared that I was confirming racial stereotypes. This became a major burden for me. The transition from my 99 percent black, small, rundown high school to 94 percent white Davidson was such a shock."
Bailey certainly had encouragers, too, including psychology professor Cole Barton. He pushed Bailey, but also understood how to make the Davidson experience work for him.
"Part of our final project in Dr. Barton's class was a 90-minute presentation on research," Bailey recalled. "He gave me the time and space I needed to do it. It was different from my classmates who spoke effortlessly in front of a room, but he made sure I could present the information in a way that allowed me to complete the assignment and still feel comfortable."
Looking ahead, Bailey's next book examines how a person doesn't have to be a monster to do something monstrous. Centered on his brother's murder conviction and exploring his family's dealings with the criminal justice system, Bailey explains the importance of acknowledging a person's full humanity, even when others may call it into question.
Ike Bailey is challenging the way people think. Whether or not they change deep down, he's pushing them to consider another viewpoint and to put themselves in another person's shoes, if only for few, life-changing pages. He and his high-school-sweetheart-turned-wife, Tracy, have two children and live in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
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