Thursday, May 14, 2020

Meet Amy Nickerson, Author of How Do You See Us? (Part II)

Since May 4, 2020, when the first of this two part Q&A was posted, news has surfaced of another Black American's life has been taken under circumstances that can be described as dubious at best. Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man, who according to his family was simply our for his daily jog when he was chased down and fatally shot by armed white residents of a South Georgia neighborhood. The father and son vigilantes were arrested months later, only after the public was made aware of the situation and rallied to bring the men to justice. Such acts of violence reiterate the relevance of books like How Do you See Us? 
      This post continues the dialog with the books author Amy Nickerson, M.A. She is an author, television and film content creator, lecturer, educational consultant, and diversity/inclusion/anti-racism advocate. She's also wife of former NFL player and coach, Hardy Nickerson, and mother to their three grown-up children. Amy recently published her first book entitled How Do You See Us? Timely, now more than ever, she recently shared her story and reflections on authorship in a Valerie's Vignettes Q&A. This is the second of a two part story. 
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Q6: How do you feel your work can change perceptions of black and multicultural children and families?
Visit the site, here.
A6. The work that has to be done to change perceptions of black and multicultural children never ceases. And that work, although we keep chipping away at stereotypes, etc. , seems to never
eradicate the problem. I am still dealing with the same types of prejudice and negative perceptions of our people that my parents did. Perhaps not to the same degree outwardly, but it is still in existence. So we continue to fight. To educate. I hope that my book will shed light on the fact that no one is immune from being perceived as a threat. I explain in my book that, in our case, we were an NFL family living in affluent neighborhoods and living very privileged lives, but in never mattered when, in an instance, our color became our main descriptor and nothing else. We were lumped into a pile of potential criminals or thieves. Our stories are not unique – I know too many other families with similar stories. And I also know many other high profile people of color that these types of encounters happened to. So I am bringing nothing new to the forefront, but what I do hope is that my candid presentation of what happened to us and how it happened, and my beliefs as to Why these encounters occurred, can help white people understand their role in this. Hopefully, some will read the book and come away with a sense of compassion and empathy, and maybe they can share or discuss with their friends and family, which might illuminate some issues and possibly create better outcomes in the future.

Q7: What makes your family unique, yet universal enough that your experience can resonate with others?

A7. My family is, first and foremost, a Black family. I don’t feel we are particularly unique. Of
course, black families are not monolithic and there are many “types” of black families. I do
think that our experiences have put us in a category that separates us from the “norm.” Having
been in professional sports settings and circles (husband played in the NFL for 16 years and
also coached for NFL and college), we are probably not what most would consider your
“average” Black family. The uniqueness comes from the opportunities that we were afforded
(not unlike other famous or affluent black families). My son also followed in dad’s footsteps and is also is a player in the NFL right now. That is fairly unique. Still, when it comes down to it, we
look like everyone else (Black people). From just looking at us, we are simply seen as Black
people. And that is where I feel that we are universal and resonate with others. As I’ve said in
the book, regardless of socioeconomic status, schooling, geography, etc., what most people see
immediately is black or brown skin, and for many, this can trigger a negative response. That I
know is something that resonates with so many others. So whether it’s my famous husband
who is pulled over by a cop, or the cook from Popeye’s Chicken, or the black mayor of a city, or
the black kid on his way to school wearing a hoodie, or the pastor of a church, we are often
“seen” through tainted lenses and with the expectation that we are capable of crimes or being
dangerous. These experiences all share the same common denominator and are what makes
our family universal enough to resonate with so many others.

Q8: Why do you feel your book has been so successful in such a short period of time?  
A8. I am thrilled that the book debuted as an Amazon Bestseller and I hope that its success continues. The main comments that I keep receiving from those interested in the book or people who have purchased it and already read it is – “It is timely” and a “Must read”. I think it is so successful because we still have not seen these problems of being viewed as threats within society diminish at all, and it is on everyone’s minds. Every day. The book, while sharing what happened to us specifically, resonates with other people of color who are also weary from the day to day stress of being aware that they could be falsely accused of a crime, or are often perceived to be something that they are not. I write about the heavy burden that exists from having to always anticipate and prepare for potential encounters with police (or others trying to police us – think of all of the hashtags that we know of), and the wear and tear that is felt in our minds and our bodies. I think many, many black people and people of color are TIRED and hope things will change, and my book is speaking their language concerning everything that is happening in real time.
Q9: Are you familiar with Rudine Bishop Simms’ famous discussion of  “Windows, Mirrors and Sliding Doors”?  Does it resonate in any way with the premise of How Do You See Us? If so, how, and why?
A9. I am not extremely familiar with Rudine Bishop Simms’ discussion of Windows, Mirrors and
Sliding Doors. However, considering what I do know, I would say the element that resonates
with the premise of my book is not necessarily with respect to literacy or learning, but in terms
of there being mirrors and windows illuminating my experiences that I shared in the book.
With respect to windows, I think it is important for those who are responsible for so much harm to the communities of color (both police and others who continue to act as enforcers) to understand what is really going on and to realize that their actions based on fear and suspicion must stop. My book will hopefully present a window’s view of what life is like for so many of us and offer an opportunity for the dominant group to make concerted efforts to do better once they realize the amount of pain that is caused. Hopefully, others will read the book and gain empathy for what many people of color endure routinely and see the humanity of those of us who are not in their immediate frame. Additionally, while the stories in my book are not necessarily affirming or positive, they do confirm and validate the experiences of countless black and brown children and adults. It is important to provide realistic accounts of what is happening in our country today and to publicize the extent to which black people and people of color are often dehumanized and policed (and even killed) for being considered threats, simply because of the color of their skin. The book acts as a “mirror” for these shared experiences and is a testament to the racist behaviors and attitudes that are still in existence today and which continue to make us feel vulnerable and robbed of our life, liberty and sense of freedom.

Q10: Last, please share anything more you’d like to contribute to our discussion.

A10. I’d also like to add that, while my book focuses on issues of law enforcement and acts of
vigilantism by whites whom zealously overreact to our presence and attempt to police us, it
does not end there, obviously. The same question – How Do You See Us ?- must be asked about
education, healthcare, and many other areas of life. The same knee jerk responses to our black
and brown skin occur in all realms of life. We are often viewed as threats in just about any
situation at all – all we need to do is search the latest stories on Twitter and we will see
something else that has transpired as a result of white people refusing to accept our place in
this world. Much work needs to be done EVERY DAY to expose, teach and correct.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Meet Amy Nickerson, Author of How Do You See Us? (Part I)

Stories of questionable encounters between people of color and law enforcement continue, even in the age of the corona virus and covid-19. Increasingly, social distancing arrest investigations are making headlines in New York City. Sadly, such encounters are not new. But how do we effect change? One way is to speak up and unite in sounding the calls for change. One mom/educator is doing just that. 

 Introducing Amy Nickerson, M.A. She is an author, television and film content creator, lecturer, educational consultant, and diversity/inclusion/anti-racism advocate. She's also wife of former NFL player and coach, Hardy Nickerson, and mother to their three grown-up children. Amy recently published her first book entitled How Do You See Us? Timely, now more than ever, she recently shared her story and reflections on authorship in a Valerie's Vignettes Q&A, in the first of a two part story. 
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Q1: Amy, please tell us a bit of your project’s background, why you wrote it and what you hope to achieve in doing so.

Learn more and order, here. 
A1. The book is a compilation of some stories (believe it or not, there are many more that I did not tell) about my family’s negative experiences with police and also people who tried to police us in various situations.  I have always shared my feelings on social media regarding the horrific stories such as the murder of Trayvon Martin, or Tamir Rice, or Sandra Bland, etc. These days, unfortunately, it seems that there is another story every week!  A friend who happens to train law enforcement officials in the area of  implicit bias and finding solutions around the barriers that exist between the black community and law enforcement had noticed a lot of my posts on social media, where I also had shared stories about what had happened to my son, or my husband.  He was adamant that my stories needed to be shared and urged me to start writing something.  So I began what was supposed to be a short essay that he could use to help his class at the FBI Academy better understand the feelings of someone non-white who had personally experienced negative encounters with police.  Once I began writing, though, it just grew because I had so much content and so much to say. I did not include every situation that had occurred with my family, but did share the most compelling, with the hopes that they could shed light on what really is happening all over the country, and also to detail the enormous amount of stress that anticipating hostilities from the police or others who racially profile us can cause.  It is literally making us sick!  I hope to validate the experiences of people of color who have been unfairly treated or policed, or who know deep within that many of their encounters were triggered by their skin color alone. I also wish to appeal to white America (and the world) to cease all of the racial profiling and assuming that black and brown people are synonymous with danger and pathology. 

Author Amy Nickerson
Q2: What is your posture as it relates to law enforcement as a person of color, and as a parent?

A2. As I state in my book, my position as it relates to law enforcement has always been to respect the law and to treat law officers with respect and to comply with their demands, as we know that it could be the difference between life and death if you do not obey or comply.  However, what scares me and infuriates me is that we have proof that one can be in complete compliance and still have his or her life taken, simply because the police officer claims that they “feared for their life” or because of any other dubious claim.  Statistics show that black people are stopped by police officers disproportionately to whites.  Given that knowledge, what can happen after the stop can be up in the air.  There are many professional police officers out there who do follow procedures and are not harmful to us, but there are far too many instances where black lives are viewed as “threatening” and then the encounter escalates.  My take is that there is not much one can do if an officer holds negative views of black people or if, for whatever reason, they perceive the person as a possible threat.  No matter what, I believe it is in your best interest to attempt to follow orders and give them the information they are asking for…..even when what they are demanding does not seem to be constitutional or seems to be excessive.  This is what I have continually taught our children, and still do, even though they are now adults.  And I describe the sense of urgency most black parents and parents of color feel regarding giving these instructions about engaging with law enforcement.  It can really be a matter of life or death!

Q3: In your book, How Do You See Us, do you offer suggestions about how families of Color should respond in their interactions with law enforcement?

A3.  In my book I don’t necessarily go through and offer suggestions, but what I do is recount all of the steps that my family has taken and has been instructed to take (and many others take) with the intention of protecting their families in the event they have to interact with the police.  I refer to “The Talk,” which is a somewhat universally understood reference to all of the warnings and protocols given to black children.  I also reiterate that, even though we often have “The Talk” and then review “The Talk” and then revise “The Talk” after each story we hear about in the news, it never seems to be enough.  Most families of color that I know have all held meetings with their children to explain the vulnerabilities and to give detailed instructions about what to do if stopped by the police – no sudden movements, act respectfully, say “Yes, Sir, No, Sir”, keep hands in full view, etc.  All of those things we relay to the children in hopes of preparing them for that possibility.  Yet, as we have seen with numerous examples in the media, compliance is never a guarantee that they will still not view you as a threat.  Still, the best we can hope for is to fully “arm” our kids with the proper steps to take by giving continual reminders about how they need to behave in the presence of law enforcement. My friend, Quentin Williams, who I refer to in the book, has written a book specifically for families of color to understand what to do if and when stopped by the police; it is called A Survival Guide: How NOT to get KILLED by the POLICE, PART I. His suggestions come from his experience as a black man who has been unfairly arrested by police, but who also is a former FBI agent and who currently trains law enforcement officials in the area of breaking barriers between cultures and races.

Q4: What do you feel is black and multi-racial children’s vulnerabilities and largest areas of risk?

A4. Black and multiracial children have numerous vulnerabilities and areas of risk.  One of the main issues, regardless of age, is that people of color tend to be perceived as threatening and suspicious far more than whites.  This can happen just about anywhere – at school, in a store, on public transportation, you name it.  So their very skin tone can be the attractor for negative attention, unfortunately.  Additionally, children of color often are denied “benefit of the doubt”, unlike most white children, so they have the cards stacked against them, so to speak, because their presumed innocence in matters is not always afforded them.  Another risk, especially concerning black boys, is the high probability that they will be viewed as being older than they really are.  For instance, Tamir Rice, who was gunned down within seconds of police addressing him about a gun, was described as being much older than he really was – 12.  When our children are perceived as being much older than they are, decisions that affect them are often made from a frame of reference that is not fair or accurate.  For example, something a young black child might be doing in public, unaware of the risks, could be interpreted as unlawful for adults to do, and if they are viewed as adults, then swift action occurs, before even getting the facts about age, etc.  Black and brown children, in general, are simply not valued to the degree that white children are, and this impacts police interactions and frequent accusations of guilt or suspicion.

Q5: Discuss the title and how you chose it. 

A5.  When I was first writing the outline for my book, which at the time was just an essay, I had not come up with a title yet.  Yet, I began watching the TV series by Ava DuVernay When They See Us?, which was about the infamous case of the five black boys in New York City who were accused of raping a white female jogger.  They were charged and then wrongfully incarcerated.  The title of the series really got me thinking about how unjust their treatment was and, at the root of it, was the “seeing” part – what negative things often materialize when they (whites) see us. This resonated with me and I had an Aha moment of my own – that mostly everything that I had wrestled with and that my family had wrestled with concerning racism and bad treatment had to do with HOW “they” saw us – what many thought of us when they saw us, how fearful they acted when they saw us, etc.   So I knew that I had to call the book How Do You See Us?  The illustration on the cover shows my family being viewed through dark glasses, and through the glasses the images are distorted, show completely different pictures of who we really are, and also show many, many more “scary” faces behind us, signifying the “multitudes” that are often described, when in reality, there may only be one or two.  Essentially, I am asking the white people who claim to be afraid of us How Do You See Us? and I imply that what it is they are “seeing” is distorted and viewed through faulty lenses.


To be continued in the next post, May 15, 2020 
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Sunday, April 12, 2020

A Sweet Treat for Your Ears.

     Now on Podcast, The Cocoa Kids Collection Books Read Along. Listen to the stories of The Cocoa Kids Collection, the kids book series that puts minority and multiracial kids center stage to tackle big issues with wit, whimsy, and chocolate. These sweet tales, by author Valerie Williams-Sanchez will be music to the ears of kids of all ages! 

We hope you'll ❤️ “🍫+πŸ‘¦πŸΎπŸ‘§πŸ½+πŸ“š!”


Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Family Literacy Self-Publishing to Connect in the Era of COVID-19

Looking for a family project? Now is the time to tell your family story! Try observing and writing a story about your family's fun and funny at-home experiences and interactions. Then, work with your children to self-publish it. 

Researched by V. L. Williams-Sanchez
Self-publishing, defined as when a writer publishes their own work at their own expense (Tiwari, 2017), offers wonderful opportunities for families to take ownership of their literacy and literate lives.

According to a Bowker report, the number of self-published titles increased by 30% from 2016 to 2017. And that number continues to rise with more and more people, from all walks of life, engaging in authorship.

From book reading, to book writing, this windfall of "at-home together time" can offer a chance to propel student literacy learning forward, as well as to recast family interactions into socially constructive and educationally productive daily activity that can be turned into a short-term project while the kids are home.

And social distancing need not be a hurdle. As an example, consider having your kids talk with their family members, including grandparents who might not be living in the same household, to mitigate our senior's social isolation while the kids report on and capture a story or two from their elder's youth. The exercise will offer an opportunity for family connectedness, while maintaining social distancing which is critical at this time.

Have older children write and younger children illustrate these stories to make a wonderful creative family project that once published, will become a family heirloom. And with the growth of self-publishing, as show in the graphic above, your family's novel, picture book, or short story collection will be in good company!

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RESOURCES 
  • Self-Publishing in the United States: Print and eBook, Bowker, LLC, 2017.
  • Tiwari, N. (2017). Self publishing in the 21st century. PUB 371: The Structure of the Book Publishing Industry in Canada.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Multicultural Children's Book Day 2020 is Here!

Each year for Multicultural Children's Book Day (MCBD), I sign-up to be a book reviewer, reading and providing my feedback about a new title, chosen for me by the event organizers. It is an activity I enjoy and one to which I look forward as it allows me to remain deeply connected to the genre and to build my personal knowledge of children’s books and reading trends. So much so, that my reviewer activities now extend beyond this one-day reading holiday. I now also write reviews for small, independent publishers of children's books and am an Author Sponsor for MCBD.
     This year, Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2020 (1/31/20) is in its 7th year! This non-profit children’s literacy initiative was founded by Valarie Budayr and Mia Wenjen; two diverse book-loving moms who saw a need to shine the spotlight on all of the multicultural books and authors on the market while also working to get those book into the hands of young readers and educators. Seven years in, MCBD’s mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in homes and school bookshelves continues.
     Since 2015 when I wrote my first review, I have been keenly conscious of the shifts and stagnation in the type of content available for our youngest readers. The effects of which I first wrote about in The Cocoa Kids Collection© Thesis: “Revaluing Children of Color’s Lives Through Children’s Literature.” That’s why I felt moved to vocalize an observation I have made about the cross-section of books I have been asked to review this season. There have been three: Katie Comma, by B.B. Swann, illustrated by Maja Anderson; Swashbarklers of the Sea by author, illustrator Cynthia Kremsner; and the single title for MCBD, The Escape of Robert Smalls: A Daring Voyage Out of Slavery, by Jehan Jones-Radgowski, and illustrated by Poppy Kang.
     Each of these books was an enjoyable read that I feel will contribute to wide reading options available to emergent readers. They are each an achievement of which their author should be proud. Also, the composite of titles and themes is worth note inasmuch as they reflect the unrelenting reality of kids’ books, their content, and characters. That is: fantasy characters dominate, as in Katie; animals too often replace humans, as in Swashbarklers, and in diversity narratives, stories about Black Americans are disproportionately grounded and framed in slavery. Granted, I could as easily have received a composite of books that reflected a different reality. However, in the random sample that chose me, the titles and content I receive reflect an unchanging truth that statistics uphold. It’s also why I continue to do my part to raise awareness and effect change through my study of literacy and writing of books and prose. 
     It is my hope that soon we will begin to see equal levels of representation in our society, and that new avenues for original expression will continue to grow and transform what Nancy Larrick (1965) once called "the all-white world" of children's books. Fresh narratives will feature stories by and about blacks and people of color living full, rich lives without being substituted by fantasy characters or human-like animals. Stories will be grounded in contemporary pop-culture as well as in an imagined future. This, I feel, is how we as a reading community and national culture will grow. That's why it is my great pleasure to feature and support new voices. A look at the authors in the two books Valerie's Vignettes features in this post shows that their lives are far from ordinary. 
     Jones-Radgowski’s life in foreign service echos a love of adventure that her book about legendary Robert Smalls describes. And the story and characters in Moore-Fields' Pit Fighters are based on the events and people in his life. It’s also why I have decided to include in this edition and those to come, Question & Answer (Q&A) author interviews of the people behind the books. These up-and-coming authors- of-color work touch the pulse of trends in the writing community. So, I invite you to check out these two, new works. Moreover, be sure to come back next month to meet another author and to read another insightful Q&A.


Enjoy, 
Valerie  
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MCBD 2020 is honored to have Valerie Williams-Sanchez and Valorena Publishing, and the following sponsors on board.

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Author Sponsors: Jerry CraftA.R. Bey and Adventures in BoogielandEugina Chu & Brandon goes to BeijingKenneth Braswell & Fathers IncorporatedMaritza M. Mejia & Luz del mes_MejiaKathleen Burkinshaw & The Last Cherry BlossomSISSY GOES TINY by Rebecca Flansburg and B.A. NorrgardJosh Funk and HOW TO CODE A ROLLERCOASTERMaya/Neel Adventures with Culture GrooveLauren RanalliThe Little Green Monster: Cancer Magic! By Dr. Sharon ChappellPhe Lang and Me On The PageAfsaneh Moradian and Jamie is Jamie,TUMBLE CREEK PRESSNancy Tupper LingAuthor Gwen JacksonAngeliki Pedersen & The Secrets Hidden Beneath the Palm TreeAuthor Kimberly Gordon BiddleBEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 by Mia WenjenSusan Schaefer Bernardo & Illustrator Courtenay Fletcher (Founders of Inner Flower Child Books)Ann Morris & Do It Again!/¡Otra Vez!, Janet Balletta and Mermaids on a Mission to Save the OceanEvelyn Sanchez-Toledo & Bruna Bailando por el Mundo\ Dancing Around the WorldShoumi Sen & From The Toddler DiariesSarah Jamila StevensonTonya Duncan and the Sophie Washington Book SeriesTeresa Robeson & The Queen of Physics, Nadishka Aloysius and Roo The Little Red TukTukGirlfriends Book Club Baltimore & Stories by the Girlfriends Book ClubFinding My Way Books, Diana Huang & IntrepidsFive Enchanted MermaidsElizabeth Godley and Ribbon’s Traveling CastleAnna Olswanger and GreenhornDanielle Wallace & My Big Brother Troy, Jocelyn Francisco and Little Yellow JeepneyMariana Llanos & Kutu, the Tiny Inca Princess/La Γ‘usta DiminutaSara Arnold & The Big Buna BashRoddie Simmons & Race 2 RioDuEwa Frazier & Alice’s Musical DebutVeronica Appleton & the Journey to Appleville book series Green Kids Club, IncSuper Platinum Make A Way Media/ Deirdre “DeeDee” Cummings, Platinum Language LizardPack-N-Go GirlsGold Audrey PressLerner Publishing GroupKidLit TVABDO BOOKS: A Family of Educational PublishersPragmaticMom & Sumo JoCandlewick PressSilver Author Charlotte RiggleCapstone PublishingGuba PublishingMelissa Munro Boyd & B is for BreatheBronze Author Carole P. RomanSnowflake Stories/Jill BarlettiVivian Kirkfield & Making Their Voices HeardBarnes Brothers BooksTimTimTomWisdom Tales PressLee & Low Books, Charlesbridge PublishingBarefoot Books Talegari Tales   We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERECo-Hosts and Global Co-Hosts A Crafty ArabAfsaneh MoradianAgatha Rodi BooksAll Done MonkeyBarefoot Mommy, Bethany Edward & Biracial BookwormsMichelle Goetzl & Books My Kids ReadCrafty Moms ShareColours of UsDiscovering the World Through My Son’s EyesEducators Spin on itShauna Hibbitts-creator of eNannylinkGrowing Book by BookHere Wee ReadJoel Leonidas & Descendant of Poseidon Reads {Philippines}Imagination SoupKid World CitizenKristi’s Book NookThe LogonautsMama SmilesMiss Panda ChineseMulticultural Kid BlogsSerge Smagarinsky {Australia}Shoumi SenJennifer Brunk & Spanish PlaygroundKatie Meadows and Youth Lit Reviews

Meet Merrick Moore-Fields, Author of The Pit Fighters

Comicbook Creator and Afro-Futurist, Merrick Moore-Fields
Introducing Merrick Moore-Fields a budding comic book author and Afro-Futurist. Merrick is the creator of The Pit Fighters. He recently shared his story and reflections on authorship with Valerie's Vignettes.

Q1: Merrick, please tell us a bit of your project’s background, why you wrote it, and what you hope to achieve in doing so. 

The Pit-Fighters is science-fiction action tale about a group of fighters competing in a fighting tournament. Meanwhile, the nephew of one of the fighters manipulates time to stop and otherworldly horror threatening the universe. I have been working on this series since I was in middle school. This project has been through several drafts (I still have trouble reading through my early work, mostly because my handwriting was atrocious back then.) and I hope to finally get this series off the ground. I wrote The Pit-Fighters as a stepping stone into a larger universe, one inspired by Star Wars and Afrofuturism.

Learn more about the Pitfighters, here.
Q2: Why did you choose comic books, as opposed to another form of writing, as your form of expression?

I love comics. I have enjoyed reading them since I was 4 years old. I started off with comic strips like Calvin and Hobbes and then moved up to more complex graphic novels like Watchmen. I just think it is a very expressive medium that allows for complex ideas.

Q3: Were you interested in writing in school?

Yes, I was mostly into poetry and spoken word. I was in a spoken word club in high school. I did some creative writing, although that was mostly on my own.

Q4: What is Afrofuturism? And why is this your genre of choice?

There are many definitions of Afrofuturism. One definition I like comes from Jamie Broadnax, a guest writer at the Huffingtonpost. In her article, "What the heck is Afrofuturism?" she states, "Afrofuturism is the reimagining of a future filled with arts, science, and technology seen through a black lens." I believe this to be an accurate description. It is a genre that allows me as a writer to construct black characters without the overarching presence of Eurocentric thought.

Q5: Tell us about your development team and how you develop your stories?

I found some incredibly talented people online through sites like Deviantart and Facebook.
Sebastian Sala was a great artist who helped bring my characters to life, while Angel Rondon
brought vibrant colors that gave each page energy. Finally, Cristian Docolomansky Cerda
created fantastic lettering that really made the comic pop. I normally would write the script first,
do some concept drawings, thumbnails, and then send the necessary documents for the team
to work on. I am very hands-off, and I want to give the artist some breathing room to put their
own spin on my characters.

Q6: The Pit Fighters features a main character who is first referred to as "Little Sun-Born." Please tell us about this character. How did he come to be and how did you develop his voice, his style of language and talking?

That's Zeke. His full name is Ezekyel Arken-Spire, and he's one of the first characters I wrote. I
wrote him when I was in 5th grade. He's a kid who was given the ability to control time from a device called the Chronosphere. I developed his style by modeling him after my older brother
while throwing a bit of my personality in the mix. He's fun to write about, and I hope readers will
become engrossed in his character when his tale unfolds.

Q7: What are your goals for the book and series? What's next for The Pit Fighters?

I consider The Pit-Fighters to be my "launch-pad" for an even bigger project that I have been
working on since I was in middle school. I plan to separate The Pit-Fighters into two parts, finally
leading into my main series. For what's next in the story hopefully there will be some fighting.

Q8: How do you feel your work can impact young readers?

It always puts a smile on my face when young readers pick up and read my work. I hope the
impact would be that they see themselves in my characters, and hopefully in the future, cosplay
as them.

Q9: Are you familiar with Rudine Bishop Simms’ famous discussion of “Windows, Mirrors and Sliding Doors”? How if at all, do you feel it applies to The Pit Fighters?

I actually just looked up the discussion (thank you internet.) I think that The Pit Fighters fits right
into it. It is very important for little readers to see themselves in what they read. I hope my
writing will help make their library a little more diverse.

Q10: What do you hope your readers take away from your books?

I want my readers to see black characters as multi-dimensional and complex, capable of
anything on the page. When I was little, I always wanted to see characters who looked like me
doing more than what society expects them to do. With Afrofuturism, black characters can
literally do anything they want.

Q11: What advice would you give other aspiring comic book authors?

Keep writing: there will be a time when you are able to go back and iron out all the fluff in your
stories, but keep building your stories and characters, and you will create your own universe in
no time.

Q12: Last, please share anything more you’d like to contribute to our discussion.

I feel we are in the midst of a renaissance going on when it comes to Afrofuturist works being
published by POC. I hope to contribute to this growing market.

Multicultural Children's Book Day, 2020 -- Book Review

“The Escape of Robert Smalls: A Daring Voyage Out of Slavery”
By Jehan Jones-Radgowski; Illustrated by Poppy Kang
Publisher: Capstone Editions          Published: 2019
ISBN: 9781543512816                      Pages: 42

Robert Smalls' true story is one for the ages. He was an enslaved man who commandeered a Confederate steamboat and then sailed it to freedom with his family and others among the ship’s 16 passengers. Then, as a freedman, Smalls returned to South Carolina and purchased the home of his former slaveholder funded in part by the $1,500 he was rewarded by the U.S. Navy for capturing the escape ship. Later, Smalls went into politics and became a member of the House of Representatives. He retired a U.S. Congressman years before his death in 1915.  But Smalls' most enduring accomplishment remains – his daring voyage out of slavery. 

And that adventure is exactly what is captured in Jehan Jones-Radgowski’s new children’s book: The Escape of Robert Smalls: A Daring Voyage Out of Slavery.

Based on the real-life story of Robert Smalls, the book offers a dramatic retelling of the historic event. Beyond the history itself, what makes this retelling fresh and engaging, worthy of a read, is the quality and cadence of the narrative. Depicted in a cartoon style of illustration, each of the book’s double panels draws the readers deeper into the adventure, tip-toeing through the night when Smalls made history. 

The new book doesn’t just tell this story; rather, it shows it in hues of grey, blue and brown. Readers are immediately drawn into the shadowy, sea-faring world of which illustrations set the tone for a rich description of the ingenuity behind Smalls' endeavor. 

With each turn of the page, another layer, another facet in Smalls' freedom play is revealed. These illustrations include drawings of how he practiced assuming the captain’s identity by studying and learning the slaveholder’s movements and demeanor. Other details like Smalls' use of a disguise to avoid being discovered, is also depicted. Such details echo the emotion of the harrowing act and tell a story that is driven by suspense-building, page-turning pauses.  

All action crescendos to an exuberant climax as the stealth seaman and his family reach safety. Readers will imagine the cheers and feel the relief the characters feel in reaching safety. In taking this approach, readers, too, will come away with a deep appreciation of the real brilliance and danger that characterized Smalls’ act and an awareness of the liberating sweetness of freedom.