In the not-too-distant future, Workfare will replace welfare in America. The Workfare program will require everyone receiving any form of assistance to work in government assigned jobs for not much more than food and shelter. Because of this, many will equate it to modern day slavery, especially since it will affect the nation’s black, brown, and poor citizens disproportionately.
Back to Dixie takes readers on a powerful and emotional journey through a course of events that divide the country, possibly irreparably. The story follows a group of friends as the political pendulum aggressively swings from far left to far right. They go from thriving in a purposefully compassionate America one moment to being wards of the state with no rights in the next.
The story chronicles the career of an ultra-conservative politician from the Deep South as he ascends to the highest office in the free world, where he unveils and executes a plan that quickly reverses decades of progress in race relations. Back to Dixie builds a world where tens of millions struggle to escape a life of mandatory servitude, and risk everything to find a place where they can once again experience what it means to be free.
“Mom, the whole focus of my work right now is to stop Black people from registering for Workfare, and get them to safety.” Michael was desperately trying to convince his mother not to go and register for Workfare. “There is no way I will let my own mother do this.”
“Son, you don’t have to worry about me. It’ll be fine. My position is a government job, and we are on the exempt list. I have all the documentation I need. Remember, your mother is nobody’s fool.”
“I know that, believe me. But I also know this president is wicked and racist, and this is his program… his baby. I watched them drag people away all day, every day. I also heard that they treat people bad in those Workfare Centers – overcrowded and filthy. It doesn’t look like they are doing any training in those places. Just stuffing people and storing them like animals.”
“And where are you hearing this from? Those REACH people? Who are they really, anyway? You sure they don’t have a secret agenda or something?” Sheila asked skeptically.
“They are a whole organization of people who understand what Earl and his Workfare program really means for Black people. They are only confirming what I have been saying this whole time. This is do or die time for Black people, Mom.”
“Michael, I know you worried, but I am gonna be alright. I just need to go down and get my registration card tomorrow.”
“Well, I already see that I can’t talk you out of it. At least let me go down there with you, just in case.” Michael had enough of these discussions with his mother over the years to know exactly when continuing to debate would be fruitless.
“Alright, since you don’t have anything better to do with your day, I am leaving work around 2:00 and heading straight there afterwards.” Sheila also knew if Michael made up his mind to come, he would anyway. “You staying for dinner?”
“Staying for dinner? What? I came here for dinner!” Michael laughing as he begins washing his hands over the kitchen sink.
“Well, help yourself. I just took the meatloaf out of the oven. It’s still hot.” Sheila enjoyed cooking for friends and family, but took particular joy in feeding Michael any chance she could get. She frequently commented on how thin he was looking, and would always ask, ‘Are you eating alright, boy?’
“Yes, ma’am. I see you added the scotch bonnet peppers, too!” Michael noted as he excitedly cut into the meatloaf.
“Yeah, it’s now a standard part of the recipe. I got to warn people, though, that it’s a little spicy!”
“Mmmmmm! Yeah, that extra spice just takes it over the top!” Michael takes a bite and savors it. “I have been dreaming about this for a minute.”
The next day after work, Sheila waited near the registration table for Michael. She decides to text him. ‘About to register. You still coming?’
Michael immediately responded. ‘Almost there. Traffic thick.’
Sheila stood and waited for five more minutes and then responded. ‘Going to register now. It will be fine. See you when you get here.’
‘I am almost there, Mom. Just wait.’ Sheila did not see that last text as she started her walk to the registration tables. There were no lines at that moment, and she was able to sit down at a table across from a young female Workfare Administration processor. She gave another glance to see if Michael made it. Nothing.
“Hello.” The Workfare processor greeted Sheila with a bright smile on her face. “Can I see your driver’s license please?”
“Hello, and yes.” Sheila reached into her bag for her wallet and packet of documents. She handed her the driver’s license. “I have all my documents right here.”
“Thank you, ma’am. One second.” The processor busily typed Sheila’s information into the computer. “Let’s see what we have here.”
Sheila opened the packet and pulled out a letter from her boss on State of New York letterhead. She handed it over to the processor. “This right here shows that my position exempts me from Workfare.”
The processor took the letter from her, and with her eyes already refixed to the computer screen, just placed it on the table in front of her. “Let’s see what we have here.” She repeats, clicking a few keys.
“Okay, I do see where you have an assignment request with the Motor Vehicles Department, but it doesn’t say that you are exempt from the training program. Let me see here.” She continued to type and stare at the screen. Sheila, on the other hand, was starting to feel restless, and perhaps a bit less confident than when she spoke with Michael.
“What do you mean?” Sheila asked, tired of her staring at the screen and typing.
“Can I see that letter again?” The processor asked.
“Of course.” Sheila handed the letter over, regaining a bit of the confidence she lost.
The processor looked at the letter and the screen, and then back at the letter. “I am sorry, but I will need to call my manager over. I haven’t handled one of these cases before.” She got up and walked over to another lady at an adjacent table. As they sat typing in her information and whispering while they stared at the screen, Sheila Dobson wore a look of deep concern on her face, her heartbeat getting louder and faster with each moment. After several minutes that seemed like an hour, both women came over to the table.
“I finally figured out what the story is, with my manager’s help, of course!” She smiled, looking back to her manager, who returned the smile. She continued, “Although you do work for a State in an exempt position, you are required to participate in the training program because you are a recipient of government assistance. I…”
Sheila interrupted. “What do you mean government assistance? I have worked for the State for 30 years!” She raised her voice in anger.
“You received mortgage assistance as part of the SCALE program, and still owe over two hundred thousand dollars on the loan. SCALE recipients are specifically qualified in section 296 of the Workfare Act.”
“This is crazy. You are crazy. I am paying my mortgage every month with the salary that I earn. That is not assistance.” Sheila’s loudness drew the attention of the WAs, and two began walking over. “Check it again.”
“I did, ma’am. And my manager did as well. You have to complete the training program, but you do have a preferred assignment back to your government agency.” The processor explained in a tone so matter-of-factly that it only made Sheila’s responses sound angrier than they were.
“Are you the manager? Can you read the letter from the Director of the Motor Vehicles department stating my position is exempt and that I am essential to the operation? What about that?” She pleaded to review the case for any appeal or review process. Anything that would put her life back in order.
“We did review that. Unfortunately, the director has no jurisdiction over the laws and the Administration’s procedures. You can file an appeal with the Administration. However, you must do so from within the training program.”
“I have a job. Can’t you read? Why would I need training to do my own job? A job I have been doing for 30 years!” She caught herself yelling, and toned her voice down midway through. “I don’t need no training.”
“Ma’am, I didn’t create the laws. I just have to follow them. Unfortunately, you do as well.” She nodded at the WAs who stepped closer to Sheila.
Sheila saw this and eyed her chance to exit the situation. She collected her documents and began to stand. “I have to talk to my boss and figure out what we can do. I will be back.”
“Sorry ma’am, but you have to come with us.” A WA grabbed her arm on either side. She violently pulled her arm away from them, but they just grabbed her again, only more firmly. They began to lead her towards the building.
“Get your hands off me! Stop! Help!” She screams as she felt her feet no longer on the ground. No longer in control of her movements.
At the same moment, Michael hurriedly parked his car, looking ahead towards the registration tables. He recognized his mother just as the WA grabbed her. Michael was about 50 yards away from them, but covered it quickly. He sprinted full bore to his mother as they carried her away against her will…
About The Author
For as long as I can recall, I always enjoyed a good story. It didn’t matter if I was reading it, watching it, or listening to someone tell it; I loved storytelling. From my early childhood in Kingston, Jamaica, one of my favorite memories was listening to my Aunt Mildred tell stories at family gatherings. I was only a preschooler, but I remember thinking how she brought characters and scenes to life so vividly that my cousins and I were completely transported to the world where her story was taking place. She would deftly build suspense and interest, while holding back just enough so that we were always surprised and satisfied by the ending. I remember having to sleep with a light on several times because of how realistic her ghost stories were! I never could retell them like she did, but that didn’t stop me from trying.
It’s that love of storytelling that drew me into fiction writing. As a schoolkid in Brooklyn, I developed an interest for writing short stories. All the time. Even my school essays and writing assignments contained dialogue and a plot with a beginning, middle and end. And years later, when I held jobs in accounting and finance, I was still an artist at heart. I attended writers workshops, took fiction writing courses in the evenings, and joined a writer’s club. I even completed a screenplay, Shades, during this period. Still, I never submitted anything for publishing. Writing was therapeutic to me because it was a productive way to escape the world of budgets, revenue goals, and the like.
In the late 90’s, a great job opportunity led me and my family to the West Coast. And with the demands at work and responsibilities at home over the years, I found less time to sit and write. But even though I wasn’t writing fiction, I still had the writer within. I penned many poetic and engaging work memos and I told captivating stories to family, friends, colleagues… everyone. Artistically and creatively, I made it work for a long time.
And then came the pandemic. The new rules prevented us from gathering together and many of our pastimes were no longer available. With more time on my hands than I ever remember having, I was able to resurrect that writer’s spirit that was buried deep down. I took an idea that I first had almost 30 years ago and decided I was going to finally write it. Initially, the task seemed daunting, but I began by writing the first word on the first page and just took it from there. As it turns out, I was reintroduced to an old passion of mine.
I am excited to bring the Back to Dixie series to the world. My hope is that readers are truly entertained and are taken on an epic journey involving all of the human emotions. I would love for people to talk about the books and the concepts they introduce months and years after reading them. If one day the series is considered a unique and important look into the intersection of politics and race, my dreams would be fulfilled.
What is your novel, Back to Dixie, about?
In Back to Dixie, the vision of our country’s leaders are so blurred by greed and hate that they justify policies and laws that effectively strip away all human and civil rights from a people. This ultimately leads to the National Workfare Act becoming law in 2029. Under the guise of Workfare training, federal contractors round up millions of the country’s Black and poor, housing them in overcrowded armories and stadiums where they are reconditioned to be assigned to work for private companies. There, Workfare wards work around the clock, often in inhumane conditions for no compensation – their lives demonstrated to mean little. Lines are drawn between those that support and benefit from the racist program, and those whose lives are destroyed by it. The book follows three friends who find hope when they join a group of likeminded people in searching for a way to be free again.
That concept is both frightening and intriguing. Where did you get the idea?
The idea of Back to Dixie began in the nineties with an urban legend that ran rampant in Black communities. The rumor was that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 only temporarily gave Black people the right to vote, and would need to be ratified in 2008. Though it wasn’t true, the possibility was haunting. I knew then that it was a book that I needed to write… one day. I had no idea that it would be almost 30 years later! I now believe the timing worked out for the best because back in 1995 I don’t think people would believe that a program like Workfare could ever become law. After watching and listening to today’s politicians, much less people will find it that far-fetched now.
Were you influenced by recent events in writing Back to Dixie?
Back to Dixie’s dedication reads, ‘For those with no voice, but truths to tell.’ That’s there only because I didn’t have room on the page to list the names of all those whose voices were forever silenced by acts of hate. The deaths, the marches, the arrests, the acquittals, and the reaction certainly influenced me in the writing of this book. I believe this is my contribution to an important discussion. I hope the story serves as a reminder of kind of damage the disease of racism can cause if its left to fester and grow. I hope that readers will talk about it to others who look different.
Who is the book for?
I would like to say the book is for everybody, but I know that simply just isn’t the case. I regularly hear statements from people questioning whether systemic racism even exists. This book isn’t for them. It is for most everyone else. I want Back to Dixie to continue the dialogue that is happening more and more throughout the country. And if some of the solutions detailed in the book are discussed by lawmakers in the future, and people talk about the Back to Dixie series as an important work in that regard, then I will have achieved my ultimate goal.
Besides achieving best-selling status, what do you want the book to accomplish?
Back to Dixie is a very emotional story that imagines a program that is compared to slavery, which is certainly one of the most difficult topics for Americans to discuss. And I had the audacity to map out a plausible scenario of how it could occur in the near future. I hope people are appalled at the thought that something like Workfare could happen in the 21st century. I also expect them to laugh out loud by a goofy thing a character does or says. After readers complete Back to Dixie, I expect them to be entertained, but also emotionally drained, having gone through the entire spectrum of feelings. They may need a moment.
What is next for you?
Right now I am focused on telling as many people as I can about this important book. I plan to meet and talk with as many readers as I can, and then inject everything I hear and learn into the next book of the Back to Dixie trilogy, which I plan to release by the end of 2022 or shortly after.
What is the title of the second book going to be?
I rather not disclose that just yet. If I let that out, it would give away one of the big surprises in Back to Dixie and we want to fair to the people who just haven’t had a chance to read it yet.
Contact The Author
Book site: https://backtodixie.com/
Author site: https://lenhyde.com/
Email: [email protected]