They Were Chosen: A Novel By Shola Gbemi


There are two sides to every story.

Jermaine Aseyori maintains a small circle, and is convinced that college is a scam. Kendra Gaskins pushes herself to embody class and poise as she juggles friendships, her mother’s expectations, and her own thoughts. Like most twenty-somethings on their predominantly Black campus, both students expect this semester to be like the others— until circumstances beyond their control force them to question their friends, their community, and themselves.

They Were Chosen invites readers to reflect on Blackness and bystandership through the experiences of ordinary people in New York City during the Black Lives Matter movement.



Kudos to any man who promises his girl a nice car someday and actually buys it—unless it’s from Craigslist. Mom’s cherry red Range Rover was the most useful gift she had ever received from a post-marriage boyfriend up until the Service Engine light signaled on in June.
The man never struck me as cheap. Last Christmas, he cov- ered Mom’s eyes and led her to the ten-foot tall tree in our living room. Underneath it sat an oak stool that supported a gold- plated Ferragamo watch, and a Fendi shoebox wrapped in a red ribbon that formed a bow above the lid. An assortment of white Toblerones surrounded both gifts like scallions to a steak. After Mom unboxed her gifts, I vowed to stop reminding her that one could play connect-the-dots with the razor bumps on his upper neck. I even committed to something I refused to do for her pre- vious baes.
I addressed the man by his name. Vincent. Vincent some- thing. Valdez, Sanchez, something with an ez at the end. Some- thing he shared with a wife and a son who were tagged in one of his Facebook pictures. Mom sold the watch and the shoes but decided to keep the Range Rover. After an entire summer in our

driveway, leaves gathered under the front bumper in busy crowds. An onslaught of dried-up bird poop covered the entire truck like facial scars after one popped pimple too many.
I really have to take the bus to campus on the first day of my junior year, and it’s a man’s fault.
I strolled to the front of our porch and stopped behind the metal pole planted to the pavement. A memory surfaced.
When Mom and I moved to the suburbs from the projects, I knelt down on my bony fourteen-year-old knees and thanked God for the bus stop guarding our lawn. I was more grateful that I was finally old enough to ride buses by myself, but I was still unfamiliar with the reality of their drivers. Six years later, that reality remained unchanged. After a twelve-minute wait, a Q85 driver sped past my stop and flashed a smile that said, “I’m get- ting paid regardless.”
Was it my Afro? Was it my denim jacket, crop top, and ripped jeans combo? Maybe he presumed that a Black girl in my outfit couldn’t be running on an actual timed schedule.
Ken, you’re thinking into this way too much.
Fifteen minutes later, a second bus screeched to a halt at my stop. I found a seat in the back, whispered a quick prayer, and stuck a pair of headphones into my ears.
Bus Stops by The Nonce feels very fitting right now.
I played the song and pulled my laminated schedule from my bag. The first few lines at the top read:

Author Interview

Can you describe your creative writing process?

My creative writing process was organized and spontaneous at the same time. When I started my first draft, I was still a junior in college with classes, a research project & a few other things to be on top of. So, I had to be strategic with my time-management. During the semesters, I’d carve out a chunk of my evening hours and Saturday mornings to write new content and edit in my apartment. During the summer I would carve out morning hours during the week.

In graduate school, my academic life was more labor intense, I was an RA, and my writing required more character development. At the same time, a lot of my writing happened off the page. On train rides to my jobs and graduate internships, I would people watch for certain movements. The way a man would hold his briefcase, or the exact way a woman might cross her legs once she found a seat. Once I paid close attention to those type of movements, I’d go in my phone and write down what I saw, exactly how it happened. Then I’d think about a character in the book who should be crossing their legs in a particular scene, or one who might be holding something in another. And I’d make a note to revisit those scenes and incorporate my visual observations into the edits for those character movements. A lot of my writing over the last few years were like that, happening off the page.

What inspired you to write They Were Chosen?

I loved reading as a child, but I lacked exposure to books with relatable Black characters. The few books I came across with Black characters portrayed them in low-income environments where the storylines always revolved around crime, violence, sex, and dysfunction. Some of those stories were entertaining, but none of that was my life as a child. I also felt like there was a more diverse range of Black stories to tell. So I wrote They Were Chosen to tell a meaningful story with diverse and fully humanized characters.

Who needs to read this book?

Everyone above the age of eighteen who cares about building community will benefit from reading They Were Chosen. Whether or not they identify as a Black person or a minority, they’ll get a lot of laughs and a lot of gems from this story.

How did you go about writing a male and female main character?

Writing Jermaine was easy; writing Kendra was way more challenging and more of a learning experience. I leaned on my mentor Bathabile, and my female friends for feedback and suggestions. Bathabile inspired me to write scenes with female characters that would pass the Bechdel Test (in other words, scenes where at least two women interacted with one another and talked about something besides a man). Writing with that approach forced me to repeatedly confront and depart from my male gaze. I threw away all of my assumptions and became open to learning different nuances of women’s social lives about how women navigate the expectations that are placed on them.  

What will readers walk away with after finishing this book?

Readers will walk away with a nuanced perspective on Black life and what community can look like. While some readers will walk away asking themselves if they are doing enough to be impactful in a positive way, some readers will be inspired to redefine what their advocacy for others can look like.

What motivated your interest in mental health and wellness?

I’ve been interested in mental health since I was assigned my first social worker as a fifth grader at a New York City public school. I didn’t fully understand it at the time, but I knew that resources like therapy were crucial for my development and my peace of mind. Unfortunately, over the years, I didn’t always prioritize it.

During my graduate school years, I balanced a full plate of courses, networking opportunities, jobs, book development, and personal stress that I didn’t manage properly. It all resulted in me developing six ulcers- something I didn’t think was possible for someone in their twenties. The doctors blamed it on poor dietary habits and major stress. After I got treated for the ulcers, I connected with a therapist and met with them for a year and a half. I added more fruits & leafy greens to my diet. When I was able to afford it, I scheduled massages on a monthly basis. Knowing the pain of those ulcers firsthand motivated me to incorporate wellness in nearly every aspect of my life.

What has your primary life focus been since you finished writing

this book?

At this point in my life I’m focused on a few things. First and foremost, I want to draw closer to God than I’ve ever been. I want to deepen my faith in Him, align my lifestyle with Him a lot more, and befriend more Christians who are working to get closer to Him. Second, as I approach the middle of my career in social impact, I want to convert my unique gifts into professional assets that create value. I’m not just a great writer. I can simplify complex concepts and manage teams. I know how to foster and maintain relationships with diverse stakeholders. I’m a great public speaker and I can facilitate difficult conversations. I’m also becoming more focused on the power of impact investing and creating opportunities for entrepreneurs with innovative solutions to social problems. As I continue to grow in my career, I’m focused on positioning myself as a social impact leader who uses his skills and connections to create access and opportunities for impact.

About The Author

Shola Alani Gbemi is a Queens, New York native of Nigerian descent. His articles on popular culture have been featured in Blavity and 21Ninety. He has also been featured on Pix11 and CBS for partnering with small businesses and nonprofit organizations to activate public spaces in New York City neighborhoods of color. His debut novel, They Were Chosen, began as a screenplay he imagined while studying at SUNY Binghamton. When Shola’s not writing, he’s using his platform, Vision Speaks, to promote purpose driven living.

Contact The Author


Vision Speaks NYC:

Personal Instagram:



Vision Speaks NYC: [email protected]

Publicist (Angela Bell): [email protected]

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