As the host of her own weekly radio show, Jean continued to pour her energy into issues that matter to her. As the on air personality of A View From the Summit, she tackled such issues as public safety, education, inner city violence and the plight of African American youth. It was while at the radio station that the idea and research for her novel Endangered came about.
Endangered was published by Amistad/HarperCollins and has received rave reviews. New York Times best selling authors Ashley and JaQuarvis call it “a gripping tale that captivates from the first page to the very last.” Publishers Weekly said the author “crafted a compassionate story that commands the reader’s attention,” while Ebony Magazine declared Endangered a “page turner.”
Jean is currently working on her third novel, The Missing, which is scheduled for release sometime in 2016. While writing books has been a dream of Jean’s since childhood, her greatest loves are God, her two beautiful daughters Sydney and Haley and her husband Charles Cush.
BPM: What is Endangered about?
Endangered is about Janae Williams whose 15-year-old son, Malik, is accused of the latest murder in a wave of violence that has just been relentless in Philadelphia. She is desperate to prove his innocence but does not have the money it will take. In steps the internationally renowned human rights attorney Roger Whitford with an offer of a free legal defense, but there’s a catch. In exchange for his representation, Janae must allow Roger and his partner, Calvin Moore, to use her son’s case to expose what they believe is the inherent bias in the criminal justice system against all black males. They argue that black males should be protected under the law as an endangered species.
BPM: Tell us about your main characters. What makes each one special?
Endangered has a wonderful cast of characters. Janae Williams is by far the most complex character, and who grows the most in the story. From the moment she hears her son has been arrested for murder, she is absolutely convinced that he is innocent. Her greatest challenge is coming to terms with the fact that she was completely unprepared for what could have been predicted in their crime-ridden community. She’s been drifting through life—surviving but not really living. Her son’s arrest is a wake up call that could change their lives forever.
Then there’s Roger Whitford, the successful and maybe even fanatical human rights attorney. He’s waited his whole life to bring down what he believes is a criminal justice system riddled with bias against black males. He thinks he’s found the perfect client in Janae’s son Malik.
Finally, Calvin Moore rounds out the three main characters. He’s the self-made, high-powered attorney. He wants nothing to do with his underprivileged past until his philanthropic boss persuades him to help out on Malik’s case. Slowly he comes around, and with as much passion as his partner, he is determined to prove Malik’s innocence.
BPM: How did you come up with your story idea?
A few years back, I had the wonderful opportunity to host my own weekly radio show called A View From the Summit in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The format of the show was to cover local interest stories. There had been an up tick in the number of murders in the city, and almost all the victims and their perpetrators were black males. Around the same time, the beating death of Chicago honor student Derrion Albert made national news. Across the country people were talking about what could be done to curb the inner city violence. I decided to do a show on inner city violence. It wasn’t until after the show, when I could not shake what I had learned, that I realized that there was a story waiting to be told. I kept digging, broadening my research to include the imprisonment of black males.
With Endangered, I wanted to explore how the violence, bias and the criminal justice system impact the lives of people living in these communities. It was so important to me that Janae and her son, Malik, were strong, fully fleshed out characters and NOT caricatures of people from the “hood” that we too often see on 60 seconds news clips.
BPM: What should your readers take away from Endangered?
Wow, what a great question. I want my readers to turn the last page of Endangered feeling completely satisfied and entertained. But equally important to me is that they have a greater sense of compassion and understanding for what black boys living in the inner city face on a daily basis, including the threat of violence, the police and incarceration.
BPM: How does Endangered relate to current social issues?
Endangered opens with Malik having to confront the police on his own. His friends have all run away at the first sound of sirens because of their own fears and distrust of the cops. This 15-year-old child has to endure guns drawn on him, an unwarranted beating, and verbal abuse before he is tossed into the backseat of a cruiser without any explanation.
Malik’s survives his encounter with the police but his story is reminiscent of current events where black males and their families seem powerless to the machine of the criminal justice system.
One of the major questions or themes of Endangered is whether we as a society are really committed to the belief that all human life is valuable. Today, in the US, we are asking those same types of questions in light of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, Ramarley Graham and so many others.
BPM: What do you wish you had known when you started writing?
Oh, that’s an easy question for me—that writing is as much a business as it is art. When I started writing, I considered myself an artist. I didn’t want to have anything to do with the business side of things. Trust me, that is a surefire way to never get published whether you self-publish or go the traditional route. It’s only when I changed my mindset that I started to see things happen in terms of actually getting my stories to readers. While in my heart I would rather sit at my computer all day and create, my brain tells me that there is other equally important work to do in order for readers to get to enjoy my stories.
BPM: How do you balance your personal life with your professional life as a writer?
To be honest, I don’t know that I do. I know I try really hard to create some semblance of balance. An interesting thing about writing is that once you’ve written the story, and it’s published, the other work of getting the word out begins. I try to include my family in promoting the book. If I go to a book signing, my two daughters help manage the sales, my husband is usually behind the camera taking pictures or video footage, all of which help me to be fully present for my readers. It’s a family affair!
BPM: Our life experiences, challenges and successes help define who we are on a personal and professional level. At what point in your career did you discover your real worth and own it?
This is more of a spiritual question for me. I remember when I graduated from law school and started practicing law as a prosecutor. I knew almost instantly that I didn’t want to be an attorney; that realization was absolutely devastating because I had invested so much time, energy and money into it. I didn’t stop practicing right away. I gave it a few years but my initial impression never changed. If I’m really honest, I knew most of my life that I wanted to be a writer but the law seemed like a practical thing to do. And how could I quit when I had beaten the odds of growing up very poor? But I did eventually give up the practice of law, and for some time I struggled with my “worth.” If I couldn’t define myself as an attorney then who was I? Now, I own my worth because it is not based on what I do but that I am a child of GOD.
BPM: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Definitely! I am blessed to be able to do what I love—write. And, I want to thank the readers in advance for their support. Also, remember once you have read Endangered, or any book by any author and loved the story, spread the word!!
BPM: How can readers discover more about you and your work?
Please visit the Jean Love Cush website — http://www.jeanlovecush.com
Like Jean Love Cush on Facebook — http://www.facebook.com/jeanlovecush
Follow Jean Love Cush on Twitter— http://www.twitter/jcush