Shawn Schwaner, an Ohio State alumnus, is returning to Columbus to speak about his recently self-published memoir.
“Dear Mama: Lessons on Race, Grace, and the Wisdom to Overcome,” reflects on the trials of Schwaner’s childhood, and on the woman who helped shape him into the man he is today.
Bertha Lee (Mama) Green isn’t Schwaner’s biological mother, but she has been in his life since the day he was born. She offered to help Schwaner’s mother raise him since his mother was young, poor and not ready for a child, according to the book.
“(We) wouldn’t have made it without Mama Green. Mama Green saved her, protected me, and ended up saving us both,” Schwaner said.
Schwaner’s childhood was fraught with traumatic experiences, including abuse. He credited Mama Green with helping him get through the darkest moments of his life.
Green died in 1993, and years later while going through a divorce, Schwaner realized she had always been the one to guide him, and he once again needed her guidance.
“What had dawned on me was, of all the people I’d ever met in my life, Mama Green was the one person who was always able to guide me out of any kind of difficult situation,” he said.
He said the novel was difficult to write and emotionally taxing because he had to address violent events from his past. In the end, he said the novel was therapeutic, because it helped him organize his experience and understand more about who he was.
Schwaner rose above his childhood challenges, earning his bachelor’s degree in sociology and anthropology from Denison University, and his Ph.D. in sociology from Ohio State. He was a teaching assistant all through his college career, and is a full-time professor at Miami Dade College in Florida today.
While at OSU, Schwaner was involved in more than just classwork and teaching. He helped college students change their lives by helping them get out of street gangs, kick their drug habits and improve their living situations.
“I figured I’d be able to help a lot of people deal with things they can’t make sense of and change their lives,” he said.
Schwaner won the Graduate Associate Teaching Award at Ohio State in 1993, having employed a relaxed teaching style, letting his students call him by his first name.
“I’m pretty laid back, because I don’t like those power boundaries,” he said. “To me, the power boundaries create this rift, and when that happens I don’t feel like the students learn because it’s more of an “us versus them” environment, rather than just “us”.
Outside of teaching, Schwaner works with a company he established called Greener Day Consulting. Greener Day addresses the impact of childhood trauma on people’s lives and how to manage and redirect those traumas into healthier pursuits. Schwaner said the organization has also helped him personally.
“I feel like Greener Day is my voice to help others while making sense of myself,” he said.
Schwaner is writing his next novel, titled “;,” which will explore the history and impact of the semicolon suicide prevention movement.
This week, Schwaner is taking a break from Florida to return to the home of the Buckeyes.
He said he hopes that in reading about his personal experiences and how he has overcome his difficult childhood, students will be empowered to face and overcome their own adversities.
“For them, that’s what the book is all about, how we can overcome our challenges to move into the realm of personal greatness,” he said.
On Thursday at 7 p.m. Schwaner will speak about his memoir at the Bexley Public Library.