Fist Stick Knife Gun Summary

Geoffrey Canada

Fist Stick Knife Gun

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Fist Stick Knife Gun Summary

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Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun: A Personal History of Violence is a 1995 memoir by American social activist Geoffrey Canada. Part autobiography and part call to action, Canada’s book tells the story of his upbringing in the South Bronx, where violence was a constant fact of life. He shows how violence is instilled in children from a young age, and uses that to open a discussion of how we need to change our culture to stop pulling children into this cycle. The book explores the themes of violence, race, masculinity, and what parents and society teaches children. Geoffrey Canada describes the combination of the presence of guns and what we teach our kids about violence as “America’s war against itself”.

The first part of Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun focuses on Canada’s personal story of his childhood in the inner city in the 1950s and 1960s. He shows how social expectations shaped his childhood, and indoctrinated both him and his brothers in a culture of violence. Boys in particular were often told by their parents to fight back when they felt threatened or insulted. Canada illustrates how this creates escalation in conflict, and the title illustrates how the deadliness of conflicts increases as children get older. A childhood scuffle with fists might become a beating with sticks in middle school, or a stabbing in high school, finally culminating what someone shooting someone to death over an insult in adulthood, essentially destroying two lives and scarring everyone around them.

Canada argues that this mindset has devastating consequences for children, especially those raised without positive male role models that can counter societal messages. Canada himself grew up in a poor, single-mother household and states that he got most of his original views on how a man handles conflict from older boys. Canada focuses a large part of the book on his experiences in the rough-and-tumble schools in the South Bronx. Violence was a part of the school from early on, as Canada recalls children as young as six or seven either bringing weapons to school, or picking up objects such as bottles or bricks in a fight. Canada describes the supposed code of honor that was near-universal in his neighborhood, saying “The first rules I learned on Union Avenue stayed with me for all my youth. They were simple and straightforward. Don’t cry. Don’t act afraid. Don’t tell your mother. Take it like a man. Don’t let no one take your manhood.”

Due to the violence in the area, Canada’s mother eventually sent him to live with her parents in Wyandanch, New York. He was able to complete his education, attend college on a scholarship, and escape the cycle of violence in the South Bronx. His experiences in the South Bronx led him to focus his career on fighting the culture of violence, and the final part of the book details Canada’s solutions for the growing problem. He states that the culture of violence is only getting worse, citing increases in drug use and shootings among teenagers. He cites the 50,000 American children killed by guns in a little over a decade before the publication of his book, and says that something must be done. Canada is a strong gun control activist, and his primary solution is for stronger measures restricting handgun manufacturing and possession, as well as the creation of safe haven areas where inner city children can spend time away from the streets. He also addresses the responsibility parents have to teach their children healthy ways to defuse conflicts rather than engaging in the escalation of the title.

Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun attained strong reviews as one of the most personal memoirs of inner city violence, and is frequently assigned as required readings in colleges around the country. In 2010, a new edition was published as a graphic novel. Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun: A Personal History of Violence (A True Story in Black and White) was illustrated by Jamar Nicholas and edited by Allison Trzop from Canada’s original words.

Geoffrey Canada has earned eight honorary Doctorates from universities including Princeton and Columbia, as well as the first annual Heinz Award in the Human Condition and the National Jefferson Award for Greatest Public Service Benefiting the Disadvantaged. In addition to Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun, he has also expanded on some of the themes in the book about the environment boys are raised in in his second book, Reaching Up For Manhood: Transforming the Lives of Boys in America. Today, Geoffrey Canada lives in Harlem where he is the founder and President of the Harlem Children’s Zone, a non-profit organization for poverty-stricken children and families that aims to provide parenting workshops, pre-school, and charter schools to help children stay in school and break the cycle of generational poverty. The Harlem Children’s Zone was featured in the documentary “Waiting for Superman”. In 2006 and 2009, Geoffrey Canada was featured on CBS news program 60 Minutes.