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The Invisible Ache: Black Men Identifying Their Pain and Reclaiming Their Power, by Courtney B. Vance & Robin L. Smith (Hatchette Book Group, New York, NY, 2023, 268 pages).

“Papa was like a shadow that was always hanging over me.”

                                    -CORY MAXSON, FENCES

Book Review by Dennis Moore

How fortuitous and ironic that I would make this book, The Invisible Ache, the last of my more than 400 book reviews written, as I now go into retirement. This spellbinding and historic book co-written by Courtney B. Vance, a member of my church here in Los Angeles, compels me to write this review.

Along with co-author, Dr. Robin L. Smith, The Invisible Ache, pulls back the covers on social taboos, and makes this book a profound and historical commentary on race and mortality, and it resonates with me for so many profound and personal reasons full of ironies.

It jumps at you from the very first page, as it states:

“It happened on a Wednesday.

     I was costarring in Six Degrees of Separation, and the Vivian

Beaumont Theater in Manhattan had been my second home for the

Last year and a half. I had a matinee that afternoon, another show to

do in the evening, and a short break in between to catch my breath.

     When the phone rang, I was lying in bed trying to shake off

Sleep and get my mind ready for my midweek hump. I fumbled

For the receiver.

     It was my mother calling. She was hysterical.

     ‘”Courtney’” she screamed. ‘”It’s your dad! He’s dead!”’

     ‘”What?”’ I asked. ‘”How?’”

     I was already reeling. But the words she said next nearly

Knocked me to my knees.

     ‘”He shot himself,’” she said, her screams lowering to a hush.

‘”I found him. In the TV room’”

Courtney is no stranger to loss. When his father died by suicide, it shattered his heart and cracked his world open, launching him on his own mental health journey. Then, three decades later, it happened again. This time, it was his twenty-three-year-old godson who took his life. Courtney realized that he couldn’t just look inward, working on himself in solitude. Black boys and men were suffering. Black boys and men were dying. He decided to share his personal struggles to show his brothers that there is no shame in hurting and no shame in healing, and that when you hurt, you’re not alone. No matter what you’re going through. There are ways to regain your footing and create a life that is gratifying, honorable, and full.

That is what I mean, when I say that The Invisible Ache resonates with me, and to a certain degree it is therapeutic, for Lord knows, I have seen much death and pain in my life!

I have wrestled with death and the contemplation of suicide so many times in my long life, as well as my oldest son Darius! As a matter of fact when I was living in San Diego and my son was living in Alabama, he called me and asked me if I had ever considered suicide. I was honest with him and told him that yes that thought had crossed my mind, but due to my faith and religion no matter how dark things had gotten for me I dismissed it. As a matter of fact, 2nd Corinthians, verses 8-10 states: “For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.” I draw strength from this, as I am sure Courtney did after the suicide of his father.

I have actually felt suicidal while living here in the Sierra Retirement Village in Lancaster, California, about 70 miles north of Los Angeles, due to this area known as the Antelope Valley being under a federal consent decree. Having a therapist for the last couple of years through a video chat every Wednesday certainly helps diffuse any thoughts of suicide, and my faith and religion helps tremendously. The latent racism in the Antelope Valley is stifling, unlike anything that I have experienced in life.

Perhaps the most insightful and thought provoking aspect of this book is made by the co-author Dr. Robin L. Smith, pictured above, in Chapter 5 The Mental Health Crisis. She states: "And then there's the nauseating, never-ending loop of clips showing Black men being beaten and murdered by police. The video of Ahmaud Arbery out for a jog literally being hunted and running for his life as if he were a character in a video game, by bigots who displayed an unapologetic entitlement to say who they think belongs where, demonstrated what could happen to a Black man who didn't stay in his place."

Dr. Smith cautions her co-author in The Invisible Ache, Courtney Vance, by stating: "That's why I suggested Courtney stop saying that his father and godson committed suicide."

What makes more sense to me now that I think of it, is Dr. Smith stating: "I talked with him about changing his language because you '"commit'" a rime, and suicide is not that. It's an act of desperation. It may be an act that comes out of anger and deep despair. But it's no more a crime than death from a heart attack or a stroke." Profound!

The attached report by a Monitoring Team indicates a 27-year old black woman being shot and killed by a white LASD Sheriff Deputy in her own home while her daughter was watching. This same white LASD Deputy had shot and killed a 61-year old black man in his own home two years earlier, and the elderly black man was unarmed. I have actually felt the need to put a chair underneath my door at night out of fear of the police or the white supremacist element coming into my home to harm me.

This monitoring report also points out an elderly black woman being thrown to the ground by a white LASD Deputy at WINCO store, walking distance from my home, breaking her arm. There is currently a federal lawsuit in court against the deputy and the Sheriff Department here in Lancaster. There has also been a history of hangings of black men here in Lancaster. This is what Courtney Vance and his co-author speaks of in The Invisible Ache.See attached monitoring report here.

My son was going through a dark period in his life, which would repeat itself many years later when he was going through a divorce and seemingly had no one to turn to. I talked him into driving from Alabama and staying with me here in California for a week, which also reunited him with his younger brother Julien whom he had not seen in 13 years.

That seemed to have done the trick, for now he is in a much better place mentally. That is what Courtney Vance seemed to have meant when he said in The Invisible Ache: “Black boys and men were suffering. Black boys and men were dying. He decided to share his personal struggles to show his brothers that there is no shame in hurting and no shame in healing, and that when you hurt, you’re not alone. No matter what you are going through. There are ways to regain your footing and create a life that is gratifying, honorable, and full.”

My son Julien, is pictured here with me at a Father’s Day service at my church in Los Angeles on July17, 2018, where ironically, the co-author of this book, Courtney Vance would give the sermon. Vance and his wife, Angela Bassett, along with their children, are also members of this church, West Angeles Church of God in Christ! Coincidentally, at the time of Courtney Vance giving his sermon, he was the President of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), and my son Julien was a member of, as he was just graduating from CalArts in Valencia. Click link to view Julien and I in front of church where Courtney Vance gave sermon here.

A poignant and thought provoking passage in this book by the authors states: “So many Black boys and Black men wind up in the pipeline to jail, a dead end that strips them of their right to vote, stains them with a mark that makes it nearly impossible to get a good job, and destroys their ability to prosper or just take care of their family. And then the cycle starts all over again, when their children grow up amid all that brokenness, victimized by the same system.” How prophetic!

These authors, Courtney B. Vance and Dr. Robin L. Smith, further states in this insightful book: “The fact that so many Black men have been able to achieve, sidestepping that fate and finding a way forward despite it, is a testament to our gifts and resilience. But constantly navigating an obstacle course can wear you out. Ducking and dodging, finding a way over and around, take a heavy toll mentally.  And some brothers break from the burden.”

The co-authors of this book, Vance and Smith, references many episodes in which black men and boys have been subjugated and/or murdered, such as Emmitt Till, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, George Floyd and countless others. As a matter of fact, I have actually written two reviews of books about Emmett Till and his murder by whites in Mississippi, as well as Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri!

There is a particularly poignant passage in this book by the authors that states: “So many Black boys and Black men wind up in the pipeline to jail, a dead end that strips them of their right to vote, stains them with a mark that makes it nearly impossible to get a good job, and destroys their ability to prosper or just take care of their family. And then the cycle starts all over again, when their children grow up amid all that brokenness, victimized by the same system.” This is reminiscent of my earlier review of Michelle Alexander’s NAACP Image Awarded book The New Jim Crow.

The authors further make a profound statement and observation in this book: “The fact that so many Black men have been able to achieve, sidestepping that fate and finding a way forward despite it, is a testament to our gifts and resilience. But constantly navigating an obstacle course can wear you out. Ducking and dodging, finding a way over and around, take a heavy toll mentally. And some brothers break from the burden.”

This thought provoking book by the authors about the challenges that black men face, coupled with those imposed on them by the police, is a must read! It does offer suggestions to address the stigma of suicide and where to go to for assistance, which is noteworthy.

Dennis Moore has been the former Associate Editor of the East County Magazine and the book review editor for SDWriteway, an online news magazine that has partnered with the East County Magazine. He is also the former President of the Bethel AME Prison Ministry in San Diego. Mr. Moore can be contacted at or you can follow him on Twitter (X) at @DennisMoore8.


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May is Mental Health Awareness Month

Actor Courtney B. Vance together with Robin Smith authored the book entitled "The Invisible Ache: Black Men Identifying Their Pain &Reclaiming Their Power". I wrote a review of this book on April 4, 2024 (see review penned by minelvas1) which dealt with suicide, trauma, loneliness and unaddressed mental health issues. I am revisiting my review to shed light on the fact that the month of May is designated "Mental Health Awareness Month, and we as a society should pay attention to our own mental health and be supportive of family members, friends, and associates who are struggling with depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety, we should encourage them to seek help emphasizing that there is no shame nor judgment in seeking help and ultimately going to therapy. There are still a few weeks left in this month so I encourage you to advocate for those who are struggling with mental health issues, let's lend support whenever we can even if it means volunteering at an event, giving out fliers etc, these small acts of kindness can ultimately lead to big results in helping those who are in desperate need of our support. Submitted by Jacqueline Carr - Author of "Quiet Thoughts"

Gov. Gavin Newsom announces $3.3 billion for mental health!

According to a story in the Los AngelesTimes dated May 16, 2024, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that the State will spend big on mental health. Ironically, this comes in the midst of May being Mental Health Awareness Month. The article indicated that $3.3 billion from "Proposition 1" will be offered soon to build facilities and housing. The money is the first tranche of a $6.4-billion bond authorized by voters when they narrowly approved Proposition 1 in March.

The Invisible Ache

I follow Dennis Moore regularly (when he writes reviews) and he always hits at the heart of every review he writes. This is no exception. His honest account of existential crises is spot on. Most everyone has had those thoughts. I lost an aunt and one of my closest friends to suicide so Dennis' comments were stark reminders. Every day is a gift. And the people we touch or touch us are a gift. Thanks Dennis for always giving your insights and wisdom. Your words always have profound meaning to those you touch. Thank you!!!

Cudjoe Lewis - Black History Buff - NetFLIX Film

Black History Buff has introduced to me a film coming to NetFLIX, that relates to the pain and suffering of blacks over the years since coming here from Africa, about the last surviving member of the slave trade "Cudjoe Lewis".

Mr. Dennis Moore Last Book Review Before He Retire

I like to personally sad, Mr. Dennis Moore and his Book Reviews has been an Inspiration to me. I enjoy and appreciate his Book Reviews, and one-on-one phone conversations. His writings will most definitely be missed. Raymond Louis Ivy

The Invisible Ache! - Raymond Louis Ivy

Thank you Raymond for those very kind words about me and my subject book review, and my heart continue to go out to you for the loss of your son!

The Invisible Ache exposes visible pain

Wow Dennis! Thank you for your many years of service in art, literature, and connections! 400 book reviews have blessed countless lives, mine included! I appreciate you providing a platform for me to be seen and be heard! I struggled with my own suicidal thoughts and ideations at the time when I had just left a life of domestic violence; almost being killed by my Police Officer husband in domestic violence. This article really hits home for me. I too was a police officer, and experienced racism among the ranks and the brutal toll of abuse of power at home. I had literally just finished my book, "On Earth As It Is In Hell" when I met you, and only months before I was almost taken away from the Earth. You gave me a platform, and when you did that, you poured hope into me, you spoke life into me, and now I have catapulted to new levels that I never thought were possible. I went to having nothing, feeling like nothing, and living like I was nothing, to now being an Actor, TV/ Film Producer with my own movie that I wrote, directed and produced, "Daddy" that details the abandonment that young boys and men feel, and the journey of a young girl, who after abandonment from her daddy, went on to attract daddies, only to find out she was really missing the 'Father' who was always there! I now have 2 Micro Networks where I distribute movies, and podcasts, I am the CEO of the Acting Beyond Academy where I will give new actors the opportunity to be in their first film with credits, IMDB, a reel, headshots, press releases, and an interview on my own Talk Show, "Elie Talk!" Why? Because someone gave me a chance when I thought I was a nobody, and my light was uncovered for the world to see! That someone was you, Dennis! You are the reason that I got out of bed from severe depression and gave life another chance! You are the reason that I will stand on the stage to receive an Oscar as I look out at the audience, zeroing in on you as I thank you for breathing life into dry bones. I told God that if He would help me through it, I would bless others the way people like you have blessed me; and for the past 6 years, I have done just that, and will continue to do so! The passages you've highlighted from the book encapsulate the resilience and fortitude exhibited by black men despite the immense obstacles they face. However, as the authors poignantly emphasize, navigating such a hostile environment takes an immeasurable toll on mental well-being, with some individuals succumbing to the weight of their burdens. "The Invisible Ache" adds another layer to this discourse, shedding light on the emotional and psychological toll exacted by systemic racism. Your review has reinforced my belief in the importance of amplifying voices that advocate for social justice and equity. "The Invisible Ache" sounds like a powerful and thought-provoking read, and I'm eager to delve into its pages to gain deeper insights into the experiences of black men in America. I vow to continue to inform, empower, and elevate others in my journey! Job well done Dennis as you have done this with excellence! I love you dearly my friend! Thank you very much! Cortina Jackson/ Follow me for my books, keynote speaking, to be a part of the acting academy, acting opportunities, be on my talk shows, or for distribution of your indie films, or podcasts with audio and video @


Ms. Cortina Jackson, hearing your life and death experience that has impacted your life in this amazing and positive way. I am a psychologist who has many years of extensive work with individuals surviving DV, substance use, and near death experiences and your story is so motivating and inspiring. I now am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and recently wrote two books on relationships and Dennis here reviewed them for me as well, and I am forever grateful for that. I would love to meet with you and discuss any other inspiring stories you have that have gotten you this far!

The Invisible Ache! - Cortina Jackson

Thank you Cortina for those very kind words about me and my subject book review. It is very hard for me to even imagine that anyone, any man that could profess their love for you through marriage, could subject you to any form of abuse! What manner of man could ever do something like that? I am so happy to see and hear that you have overcome all that, and you are now receiving your Blessing. May God continue to Bless you!

he Invisible Ache: Black Men Identifying Their Pain and Reclaimi

What a powerful story. Dennis, I am so thankful that you did this review, fortuitous indeed to have it being your last one here at East County. "The Invisible Ache" addresses death by suicide, it gives me cause to pause, the question is always why, could they not have spoken to someone who could have talked them out of it, that question is the easy part, the individuals who eventually take their own lives have been suffering in silence for years without seeing a way out, they believed that ending it is the best and only way out; then there is the subject matter of mental health issues that are not always addressed, also years of trauma, and one's mind taking him into dark places with no solution in sight could have devastating results on the human psyche. Dennis, once again I admire your candor for sharing your thoughts on this issue, how it has affected you and your son in a personal way. The black community has shunned the idea of therapy for years, mistakenly believing that going to therapy is for sick people, that you can "pray" away any problems. Black men, for the most part, continue to be traumatized, are seen as less than, are over policed, are incarcerated at higher rates than other races, it's just so many issues that could drive one to the brink, especially if the proper resources aren't in place to help those who need help. Great review, this book is a tough read but a necessary one. Thanks once again Dennis for shedding light not only on the suicide issue but also about the events in Lancaster county, the more we know the more we can work toward resolving issues. Submitted by Jacqueline Carr - Author of Quiet Thoughts

President Joe Biden addresses Sierra Retirement Village!

The attached letter to me from President Joe Biden references an ongoing situation here in Lancaster, California, as he specifically states: "Thank you for taking the time to write the Biden-Harris Administration. White House staff reviewed your correspondence and forwarded it to the appropriate Federal agency for further action." My letter to President Biden was actually to California Attorney General Rob Bonta, but Joe Biden was copied on it. It concerns some of the issues referenced in my subject review of Courtney Vance's book as it relates to issues and circumstances contributing to blacks and the propensity for them to commit suicide. Lancaster has been embroiled in a long running consent decree ovrseen by President Biden's Justice Department, in which blacks here in the Antelope Valley have been killed by LASD Sheriff's Deputies, and in one particular instance an eldely black woman was thrown to the ground by a white Sheriff Deputy at WINCO Foods, within walking distance where I currently live, and had her arm broken. The case is now in Federal Court. The attached and referenced Monitor Report associated with the consent decree clearly defines what is going on here in Lancaster, of which the Sierra Retirement Village is a part of, and is a part of the culture here in Lancaster. See President Joe Biden's letter to me here.

Israel & Gaza

Jackie, thank you for those kind words about my review of subject book, but I want to express my heartfelt thoughts and condolences on all the needless suffering and death of those in Israel and Gaza. Yes, there are many factors involved in suicide, and it could be those losing a loved one, as is happening in Israel and Gaza. The suffering and needless pain must stop. This recent killing of the 7 food service workers has brought about additional pain and loss of life, with families losing loved ones. Perhaps someone may feel that they can not go on with that particular loved one, and resort to a suicide. I am blessed to have 5 sons, a daughter, 2 grand sons and a grand daughter, with a great grand son coming in about a couple of months. I would be heartbroken to lose any one of them, as so many has in Israel and Gaza. I feel their pain! We here inthe Antelope Valley, Lancaster particularly, are going through our suffering and pain, in the attached concent decree that has been going on for more than 10 years. I mention it in my review, in which many black citizens in Lancaster and Palmdale have been killed, some by the police in their own homes See attached here.

Israel & Gaza

Dennis, I totally agree, the situation in Gaza is heart-wrenching, and the suffering is indeed needless, and I can see where loved ones can lose hope and resort to suicide; we have to continue to pray for a cease fire and for good leadership and level heads. Thanks for reminding us about that part of the world, also, a big thank you for attaching the 17th Annual Report of the Antilope Valley Monitoring Team, and that beautiful photo of you and your son Julien. Stay well. Jacqueline Carr - Author of Quiet Thoughts

Antelope Valley Monitoring Team Report - Lancaster

Jacqueline, the monitoring report commissioned by the federal government consent decree, has a lot of implications that needs to be considered starting with a young black woman being shot and killed in her own home by white Sheriff Deputy Ty Shelton while her daughter was looking. This same Ty Shelton had shot and killed an elderly unarmed black man in his home here in Lancaster two years earlier. This recent shooting is described on page 2 of the attached monitoring report, and further describes the tense and dire relationships between blacks and whites, which I find myself in the middle of. One of the Deputy Sheriffs actually came to my apartment in response to a complaint and suggested that I go back to my hometown of Chicago. 

Suicide Prevention

Hello Dennis, What a tough subject. I am a Married and a Mother of 2 Adult children. Everyone life experiences are different as we all know. When a person gets so low and feel they can't talk it out or even have someone's attention long enough to listen. Can be hard for someone who is going through something. Suicide is not something that in my opinion should be a secret get help and trust that there are people who Love and care about you. It just may not feel like it While your suffering. Good Review Dennis. Charger Girl

A Thought-Provoking Article

Courtney Vance, in his book, The Invisible Ache, showed boldness in his willingness to throw back the curtain and expose his personal hurts.  In his review of the book, Dennis Moore does the same thing. Both men are honest about their feelings and histories in an effort to help other black men deal with their downspiraling lives. My hat's off to both of them for their courage to speak up. 

“Let’s Talk: Suicide Awareness”

Just received a call from a Mr. E.W. Carter of the Los Angeles County Department of  Mental Health, whom I had met about a month ago at the Lancaster Public Library. I was actually at the library in Lancaster returning the book "The Invisible Ache", that I had just completed and posted my review of this book. Mr. Carter and I had agreed over the phone to work together to bring attention to the subject of mental illness, which is a component of Courtney Vance's and Dr. Robin Smith's groundbreaking book. In a flyer distributed by the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, they state: "Suicide is the leading cause of death for 10 - 24 year olds in California."

Right on, Dennis, but. . .

I don't intend to lessen the burden which black people bear, Dennis, not at all, but I have memories of a young grandson and a nephew doing the foul deed. They were white and also suffered "The Invisible Ache" that pained them into suicide. . . . And recognize how the killing-others government doubles the suicide rate -- the suicide rate for Veterans was 23.3 per 100,000 in 2001 and 31.7 per 100,000 in 2020. For non- Veteran U.S. adults, the suicide rate was 12.6 per 100,000 in 2001 and 16.1 per 100,000 in 2020.

Don, Suicide is not for me!

Don, Suicide is not for me , as I have been so Blessed in life, and have so much to live for. First of all, I have 5 sons and a beautiful daughter, along with two grand sons and a grand daughter, with a great grand son on the way. Two of my sons are graduates of Michigan State and CalArts here in Valencia, and a grand son a graduate of Cal State Fullerton. Yes, I have been Blessed with no time to think about suicide, and it was only as a frame of reference to Courtney Vance's book and possibly the reasons why his father commited suicide. I can understand and appreciate your thoughts and comments on the suicide rates for veterans and the "killing-others" government, such as what is going on in Gaza and other places, but we as a country have so much to be thankful for. I just added a picture of me and my son Julien standing in front of my church, on the day that Coutney Vance gave his sermon, while his wife Angela Bassett was in New York accepting an award, and it reminded me of the strides and accolades that Julien has earned as an actor. I tell him all the time that he is living a dream, but for some reason he does not see it. Kids!! He has a very small role in the movie "Little Things" with Denzel Washington and Ramy Malek, and he has a significant role in the YouTube video "Boblo Boat" which has garnered more than 20 million views. My son Montrel who graduated from Michigan State with a degree in Education, has worked at the United Nations, so what could I possibly be suicidal over? I can't wait to hold my great grand son! An, for my therapist Anthony Rucker, whom I have a video therapy session with from New York every Wednesday, he is a Godsend!

Me neither, Dennis,

My favorite saying, as I get into the high eighties: 'Life is too short to be taken seriously.' -- so why make it even shorter? I don't need a therapist to come to that conclusion. . . .Veterans have a different standing which I mostly (not completely) lack, owning a piece of the Washington killing machine. That's nothing to be thankful for, despite "thank you for your service." A million dead Iraqis have nothing to be thankful for, so forget that line.

“Heist 88”

The author of subject book, Courtney Vance, appears in his latest of many movies, "Heist 88", that of a criminal mastermind who decides to pull one last job before going to prison. This scintillating move based in my hometown of Chicago, demonstrates the breadth of Courtney Vance's acting career.