Participants in the book release on the early life of John Mack, included, from left, Leah Sayles, United Voices of Literacy president; Laval Belle, owner of Noah’s Ark Publishing; Sharon D. Hogg, author; retired Congresswoman Diane Watson and Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker, MTA commissioner. (Cora J. Fossett/L.A. Sentinel)

Everyone agrees that John W. Mack made a lasting impact on the city, especially in South Los Angeles. His role in advancing civil rights, social justice and economic equity for African Americans is documented in print publications, Internet entries, TV news archives and several YouTube videos.

But, how did he become such an iconic figure?  Author Sharon D. Hogg seeks to answer that question in her new book, “Life is a Marathon: The Life and Legacy of John Wesley Mack.”

The wealth of material about Mack, who passed away last year, fills several Google pages, which can give the impression that there is no more to learn about him.  However, Hogg reveals facts about the legend that are not so well known and she aims her information toward young readers.

“Life is a Marathon” recounts Mack’s upbringing and tells about the early role models and nurturing influences that shaped his character and principles in his ensuing years. Hogg also shares the job that he had as a youth, his involvement in the church as a teen and the situations he experienced as a young adult, which laid the groundwork for his significant career.

“The book covers what he was like as a child and what made him want to be a leader in his community,” said Hogg. “The book starts with him as a young boy, born in South Carolina and growing up in the civil rights era, and follows him until he becomes president of the Los Angeles Urban League and a police commissioner.

“Two things I learned was that John Mack was a preacher’s kid, so that was interesting. Also, I didn’t know that he worked in the cotton fields and he did not complain about it,” Hogg said.

She outlined other highlights of “Life is a Marathon” and the story behind writing it during a book release and signing event on July 20, at the Baldwin Hills – Crenshaw Mall. Hosted by retired Congresswoman Diane E. Watson, the program attracted a big crowd, as well as Mack’s son, Anthony and Mack’s grandchildren.

Following an introduction by MTA Commissioner Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker, Watson queried Hogg about the book and reasons the project came about. Watson worked closely with Mack for many years and was a member of the Urban League Board of Directors, who selected him to head the organization.

Explaining the book’s beginnings, Hogg said the project stemmed from a discussion between Laval Belle, owner of Noah’s Ark Publishing, and Leah Sayles, president of United Voices of Literacy (UVOL).  Sayles’ nonprofit operates an after-school reading program at John Mack Elementary School.

“Leah, who is all about inspiring and enriching her students, wanted a book written on John Mack to further elevate her students. Laval came to me and asked if I would like to do it. I thought, ‘what a responsibility,’ but I would be a fool not to except the privilege to write the book on John Mack,” Hogg said.

Starting her research and interviewing in January, Hogg completed the book in mid-March and Belle had the publication ready a few months later.  In addition, he and Sayles recruited 5th grade students in UVOL’s Readers are Leaders program at Mack Elementary to record an audiobook of “Life is a Marathon.”

“We are happy to be a part of this. Mr. Mack was a wonderful statesman who believed in education and we are now celebrating his life and legacy through the first book signing and the audiobook that our students are so proud of,” said Sayles.

“Life is a Marathon: The Life and Legacy of John Wesley Mack” and the audiobook are available at Malik Books in the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Mall and at