We had a long conversation with Prince Waly—via DM—during the first lockdown. The rapper had just been diagnosed with cancer. Three years later, in 2022, he released his first album, Moussa, before going on a tour. La Cigale, Le Louvre and soon, the Olympia. The text that changed his life is called Leon’s Story.
« When I was asked to participate in OPEN BOOK, I didn’t hesitate for a second. I’m naturally curious and like to share with the people around me, so I instantly jumped at the chance to tell you about a book that marked my childhood and is still with me today.
The book that changed the way I see the world was Leon’s Story.
I must have been twelve years old; my older brother came home from school, threw his bag on the floor and took out a book, which he placed on the desk in our shared bedroom. I was immediately drawn to the front cover: a smiling black child.
There was no bookshelf at home, so I seized on this book, this child, this look, this smile, as an invitation to get to know him. A new friend.
My name is Leon Walter Tillage. I was born on January 19, 1936. I have eight brothers and sisters...
That's how Leon introduces us to his life. I identified with him right away, as I also come from a large family: I have nine brothers and sisters.
Throughout his story, Leon puts us in the shoes of a young African American living in the American heartland of the past. A life plagued by poverty, lack of freedom, constant anxiety, and the fear of tomorrow.
It was the first time I ever heard about Jim Crow laws, segregation, and civil rights.
I think I lost a lot of my childhood innocence then. I was brought brutally face-to-face with these events from the past. So many questions were swirling around in my mind. I became a 12-year-old boy with questions he shouldn't have had to wonder about.
« My name is Leon Walter Tillage. I was born on January 19, 1936. I have eight brothers and sisters... »
Excerpt from Leon’s Story, written by Leon Walter Tillage in 1997
In the book, Leon talks about his strict, deeply religious parents, who worked themselves into the ground all day long on a farm that didn't even belong to them. I often saw similarities with my own parents, who left for work very early in the morning, after saying their first prayer at dawn.
Since that book came into my life, it has never left me; it’s still with me today.
Leon’s life is a shining example of fighting spirit and determination. Despite events that might have seemed insurmountable and tragic, he always remained brave and strong.
In a way, the story of Leon helped me develop into the person I am today. I thank him for that. »