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Rams’ Todd Gurley Champions Childhood Literacy Initiative

LOS ANGELES SENTINEL — While students indulged in a complimentary pizza party sponsored by Pizza Hut, Gurley read from the book “The Magician’s Hat,” authored by his former University of Georgia football teammate Malcolm Mitchell.

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Rams’ cheerleaders, Rams’ running back Todd Gurley, Worthington Elementary School students and the school principal pose for a group photo at Gurley’s Childhood Literacy Initiative event in Inglewood, Calif. (Lauren A. Jones/L.A. Sentinel)

By Lauren A. Jones

On Tuesday, Los Angeles Rams’ towels whirled above the heads of students inside the Worthington Elementary School auditorium accompanied by chanting, “Who’s House?…Rams’ House.” Students eagerly awaited the appearance of Rams’ All-Pro running back Todd Gurley for his Childhood Literacy initiative in conjunction with Pizza Hut, the Rams, and The BOOK IT! Literacy Project.

“I always thought literacy is one of the main things that should be focused on with kids,” explained Gurley, a back-to-back NFC West Champion. He declared childhood literacy as his initiative as part of the NFL’s My Cause, My Cleats campaign.

Rams’ All-Pro running back Todd Gurley hosts childhood literacy initiative with Pizza Hut and BOOK IT! Program in Inglewood, Calif. (Lauren A. Jones/L.A. Sentinel)

[/media-credit] Rams’ All-Pro running back Todd Gurley hosts childhood literacy initiative with Pizza Hut and BOOK IT! Program in Inglewood, Calif.

While students indulged in a complimentary pizza party sponsored by Pizza Hut, Gurley read from the book “The Magician’s Hat,” authored by his former University of Georgia football teammate Malcolm Mitchell.

“For me, it would’ve had to have been Michael Vick, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed,” Gurley responded when asked who he would have picked to read him a book in elementary school. “You know those guys were some of my favorite players. If I was a kid and that happened, I don’t know I would be freaking out.”

Years later, “It’s definitely something I never thought I’d be doing, but I love it,” the two-time Pro Bowler added. Gurley emphasized the importance of the partnership for such a universal cause.

Each student received a copy of “The Magician’s Hat” from BOOK IT!, a program created in 1984 to motivate children to read by rewarding students’ reading accomplishments with praise, recognition, and pizza.

“Sometimes, underserved schools don’t get enough and when people want to lend that helping hand and that support it’s very cherished and welcomed,” said Miguel Perez, Worthington school principal. “It’s like what I tell the kids, this doesn’t happen every day, you’re very lucky.”

Worthington Elementary, which is a part of the Inglewood Unified School District, is primarily comprised of Black and Brown students.

“Literacy for all is the goal of the district,” stated Dr. Carmen Beck, Inglewood Unified School District chief academic officer.

Beck shared the three fundamental keys to literacy with the students: Close reading, engaging in academic conversations with classmates, and writing with comprehension.

“It was fun and I had a great experience meeting a National Football [League] player,” reflected Aidyn Brown, Worthington’s Student of the Year. “For him to come to our school, it was a really nice privilege.” She was selected as one of the students to ask Gurley a few pressing questions.

“When they see a professional athlete who went to college, the University of Georgia, and really encourages literacy and education as a pathway out of their current condition, it really inspires our kids,” expressed Perez.

Brown is enrolled in the dual immersion program, where she has become bilingual, speaking both Spanish and English fluently. Over time, she developed a passion for reading.

“I feel like I can learn more stuff than just being on electronics all day,” she stated.

Gurley recalled that growing up his inspiration to read came from feeling empowered and immersed in books like the Harry Potter series.

“And then they got too long for me,” he laughed.

Following the book reading, Gurley provided students with an exclusive first look at his customized Nike My Cause, My Cleats. The childhood literacy-themed shoe featured an illustration of the cover art for “The Magician’s Hat” on one side. On the other side, it reads, “What’s Your Story.”

Gurley, along with several other NFL players, will debut his specialty cleats on Sunday, Dec. 16, as the Rams face the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday Night Football.

This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Sentinel

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Afro

Black Fatherhood Shines in New Animated FIim

THE AFRO — For the most part, Historically, stories about Black fathers in mainstream media often carry a misleading, yet pervasive tones of absenteeism, hyper masculinity, insensitivity, and irresponsibility, monolithic. But this week, the beauty of Black Fatherhood debuts. But this is narrative does not fairly represent the role of the Black fatherhood.

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The picture book “Hair Love” was released by Kokila Books/Penguin Random House releasing on May 14, 2019, and became a New York Times Bestseller. (Courtesy Photo)

By AFRO Staff

For the most part, Historically, stories about Black fathers in mainstream media often carry a misleading, yet pervasive tones of absenteeism, hyper masculinity, insensitivity, and irresponsibility, monolithic. But this week, the beauty of Black Fatherhood debuts. But this is narrative does not fairly represent the role of the Black fatherhood.

Hair Love is a heartfelt animated short film that centers around the relationship between an African-American father, his daughter Zuri, and the most daunting task a father could ever come across – doing his daughter’s hair. The short, a passion project from Matthew A. Cherry, will be making its theatrical debut in North America on Aug. 14.

Directed by Cherry (executive producer, “BlacKkKlansman”), Everett Downing Jr. (animator, “Up,” “WALL·E”), and Bruce W. Smith (creator, “The Proud Family,” animator, “The Princess and the Frog”), Hair Love is a collaboration with Sony Pictures Animation that was launched as a Kickstarter campaign in 2017 with a fundraising goal of $75,000. Strong support led to the campaign amassing nearly $300,000, making it the most highly-funded short film campaign in Kickstarter history.

“To see this project go from a Kickstarter campaign to the big screen is truly a dream come true,” said Cherry. “I couldn’t be more excited for ‘Hair Love’ to be playing with ‘The Angry Birds Movie 2’ in front of a wide audience and for the world to see our touching story about a Black father trying to figure out how to do his daughters hair for the very first time.”

“Hair Love” features the voice of Issa Rae (“Insecure”) as the young girl’s mother. The short is produced by Karen Rupert Toliver, Stacey Newton, Monica A. Young, Matthew A. Cherry, and Lion Forge Animation’s David Steward II and Carl Reed. Peter Ramsey (“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”) and Frank Abney (animator, “Toy Story 4”) serve as executive producers.

“This is such a special story that means so much to us,” added Ramsey, “Matthew has rallied an insanely talented group of people to get this short made, and to be able to share it with the world is a gift. We hope that audiences can feel this team’s dedication up on the big screen, we are incredibly proud of it.”

The short’s co-executive producers include Jordan Peele, Andrew Hawkins, Harrison Barnes, Yara and Keri Shahidi. The short’s associate producers include N’Dambi Gillespie, Gabrielle Union-Wade & Dwayne Wade Jr., Gabourey Sidibe, Stephanie Fredric and Claude Kelly.

Physical production of “Hair Love” has taken place at the Los Angeles-based animation studio, Six Point Harness (“Guava Island”).

The picture book “Hair Love” was released by Kokila Books/Penguin Random House releasing on May 14, 2019, and became a New York Times Bestseller.

This article originally appeared in The Afro.

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Birmingham Times

Neena Speer’s First Year in Law School Made Her Better Attorney — And an Author

BIRMINGHAM TIMES — Speer’s mindset was that somebody is going to deal with what she dealt with and ask what law school was like for her. So, instead of telling people, she decided to give them something to read and to go by.

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Neena Speer with her book "Dear Future Lawyer: An Intimate Survival Guide for the Minority Female Law Student" (Photo by: Ameera Steward | The Birmingham Times

By Ameera Steward

Neena Speer’s book “Dear Future Lawyer: An Intimate Survival Guide for the Minority Female Law Student” (Ameera Steward, The Birmingham Times)

At the time, Neena Speer felt that going through law school was the worst hand she could have been dealt.

“I almost flunked out,” she said. “I went from honors student … to barely getting a 3.0 [grade point average]. … It just messed with my psyche. … Then I got out of law school, failed the bar, … [and] couldn’t find a job.

“All these experiences can happen, so I said, ‘Why not write and tell [people] about all these feelings they’re going to feel, all this stuff they’re going to go through? [Why not] tell somebody exactly how they may feel in that scenario and how to use it?’”

Those experiences led Speer to write “Dear Future Lawyer: An Intimate Survival Guide for the Minority Female Law Student,” a book that walks the reader through Speer’s experiences during each year of law school. She attended the University of Alabama School of Law from 2014 until 2017—and almost didn’t make it through her first year.

“I just had to have some way to cope with the fact that I thought, ‘If God was sending me here, why the heck would He have me almost fail out of law school?’” she said.

One of the problems Speer faced was that she had received advice from people who had experienced law school differently than she had, and they were telling her she wasn’t doing enough.

“I was in every office of every teacher every week, asking [questions], doing my outline, skipping football games, going out maybe every once in a while, and I didn’t do enough? It put me in a place or a mindset I didn’t know how to recover from,” she said.

To deal with it all, Speer decided to write a funny way of looking at what she was going through.

“I met so many different characters and went through so many different emotions. Had [someone] told me I was going to feel like this, I would have felt a little better knowing … beforehand that this [was] all the stuff I [would] go through,” she said. “So, I just literally wrote down [everything from] my first year of law school.”

It became therapeutic, and she sent it to a mentor.

“It was just a ‘Dear Future 1L, [first year of law school], Note to Myself.’ That’s how [the process of writing the book] started,” said Speer, 26.

The reception was so strong that she decided to write another chapter for her second (2L) and third (3L) years.

“By the time I finished law school and flunked the bar, I wrote a graduate chapter,” Speer said. “Then I wrote a bar-exam-prep diary at the end.”

“Real-Life Scenarios”

Speer’s mindset was that somebody is going to deal with what she dealt with and ask what law school was like for her. So, instead of telling people, she decided to give them something to read and to go by.

“I give you real-life scenarios, real things you’re going to encounter,” she said. “I wanted this book to be a reality check for people like me—people who had never been to law school, people who never had anyone in their immediate family go to law school, … [people who] don’t know what to expect.”

“Dear Future Lawyer: An Intimate Survival Guide for the Minority Female Law Student” is an “expectations book” that prepares law school students “for some of the people they’ll meet; the different mindsets, emotional mindsets they’ll go through, especially in the first year,” said Speer, who added that she doesn’t sugarcoat her experiences and she wants people to have “the real.”

The end of each chapter asks readers to “gut check themselves.”

“Don’t just read this. Talk to me. Have a conversation with me.” Speer said. “The book is written as a conversation about expectations, so it’s meant for you to have a conversation. I want people to write in those pages. … This book gives you the information you need from me and gives me information I need from you to make you better.

“It’s a book in which you can actually express [yourself] and hear from somebody without being interrupted. … It’s like a safe space for you to actually be uninterrupted with whatever happened in your life, your law school experiences, or your … truth without having somebody say, ‘Oh, wait, let me tell you about mine.’ This is a place where you can put down your innermost thoughts, just like I put down my innermost thoughts.”

Speer’s book is written for female minority law students “sitting in a classroom, feeling, ‘I don’t know how to do any of this. Sometimes I feel like the people here think less of me. Sometimes I feel like the people in here don’t understand how much I can add to the conversation. Most times I don’t even feel like I deserve to sit in this seat.’ … It’s for that woman. It’s also for the same girl that got up there and finished anyway.”

Speer graduated from Homewood High School in 2010 and attended Howard University, where she double majored in psychology and French; she focused on the two subjects she was interested in during high school.

“I became fluent in French,” she said, “and psychology was just good to understand people’s minds.”

After graduating from Howard, she attended the UA School of Law.

Start Your Own Business

Before starting her own firm, Speer said she could not find a job. During her search, she recalled something a mentor said to her: “I don’t really see you working for anybody. I see you starting your own business.”

That’s exactly what Speer did. She opened Neena R. Speer Law Firm LLC in April 2018.

“By the time I got to January of this year, I was like, ‘I can do this!’ I felt so good that I could do it. … I just felt more confident,” said Speer, who also is a motivational speaker and a mentor through her mentoring program called Step 1-2-3.

“Dear Future Lawyer: An Intimate Survival Guide for the Minority Female Law Student” is available at Amazon.com (search for the book title) and Speer’s website, https://www.neenathelastbrand.com, where you can also find out more about her.

For more author stories, click one of the links below. 

Jayla Groom penned book after seeing her mom’s ‘wanted’ mugshot on Crimestoppers

Mother and 7 year old daughter encourage girls to see beauty; not differences

Khalil Saadiq wrote book that he says “will read you”

This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.

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#NNPA BlackPress

Alice Walker: Hometown Celebrates Literary Legend’s 75th Birthday

NNNPA NEWSWIRE — Walker’s legacy of activism and storytelling was on full display at the event, which was held at the Georgia Writers Museum and included a day of activities and events to honor Walker’s life and achievements.

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Pulitzer Prize Winning novelist Alice Walker.
Pulitzer Prize Winning novelist Alice Walker.

By Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., NNPA Newswire Culture and Entertainment Editor

Alice Walker, one of the premiere writers of the 20th Century, was honored in July by her hometown of Eatonton, GA for her 75th Birthday (Alice Walker 75). Hundreds of people flocked from all over the country to Walker’s birthplace to celebrate the birthday of the Pulitzer Prize winning author.

The activist, who was born February 9, 1944 in Eatonton left in 1961 to attend Spelman College, eventually enrolling at Sarah Lawrence College due to controversy surrounding her political activism at Spelman.

Walker’s legacy of activism and storytelling was on full display at the event, which was held at the Georgia Writers Museum and included a day of activities and events to honor Walker’s life and achievements. The event was co-chaired by award-winning author Valerie Boyd, editor of Gathering Blossoms Under Fire: The Journals of Alice Walker, which will be released in 2020 and Lou Benjamin, founder of Eatonton’s Briar Patch Arts Council.

Walker, who lived just outside of town, acknowledged this was the first time she had been to Eatonton and was unaware the Plaza Arts Center existed, which is where many of the festivities were held.

The day kicked off with a screening and discussion of the American Masters Documentary, Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth followed by a discussion with the filmmaker Pratibha Parmar and scholar Salamisha Tillet at The Plaza Arts Center.

Celebrants were able to take bus tours of the area and see Walker’s birthplace while fellow authors and poets and friends paid tribute to the game changer, who was clearly touched by the praise, humbly thanking the audience throughout the day of events.

An American Marriage novelist Tayari Jones read from the novel Meridian, poet Daniel Black read Walker’s short story “Flowers,” and poet Kamilah Aisha Moon read Walker’s poem, “How Poems are Made.” Journalist and author Evelyn C. White offered remembrances of friendship and activism and classically trained Gospel violinist Melanie R. Hill performed a medley of songs honoring the legend.

Perhaps the most poignant part of the program was when Walker’s daughter Rebecca, read several pieces including “Now That Book Is Finished,” a poem Walker wrote about Rebecca when she was a child. Rebecca’s son Tenzin, 14, performed an original song he composed entitled, “Sun and Steam,” which he played beautifully on the piano. Rebecca Walker’s words, expressions of love and gratitude to her mother and Tenzin’s performance were symbolic of the reconciliation between Walker and her daughter who had been estranged during a difficult period. Walker’s former husband Melvyn R. Levanthal was also in attendance.

The special birthday celebration ended with Walker taking the stage of The Plaza Arts Center for a candid conversation with Boyd, author of the award-winning biography Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston. Walker and Boyd’s tête-à-tête ended with an invitation for all attendees to take the stage and dance with the celebrated author to two of her favorite songs, “Rock Steady,” by Aretha Franklin and “As” by Stevie Wonder, concluding a lovely day of celebration of one of the 20th Century’s greatest writers.

This article was written by Nsenga K Burton, Ph.D., founder & editor-in-chief of The Burton Wire. An expert in intersectionality and media industries, Dr. Burton is also a professor of film and television at Emory University and co-editor of the book, Black Women’s Mental Health: Balancing Strength and Vulnerability. Follow her on Twitter @Ntellectual or @TheBurtonWire.

Nsenga K. Burton Ph.D.

Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. is an award-winning writer, entrepreneur and professor living her best life with her daughter Kai and fur-son Mr. Miyagi. She is founder and editor-in-chief of The Burton Wire, a news blog covering news of the African Diaspora. Dr. Burton is an expert in the intersection of race, class, gender, sexuality and media related industries. An activist scholar, Nsenga has authored numerous articles on the subject and recently co-edited a book on Black Women’s Mental Health. You can see and hear her on radio, tv and new media waxing poetic about these issues. In her spare time she vacillates between fighting the power and Happy Hour. Follow her on Twitter @Ntellectual.
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Birmingham Times

Jayla Groom Penned Book After Seeing Her Mom’s ‘Wanted’ Mugshot on Crimestoppers

BIRMINGHAM TIMES — Groom, from Hueytown and a rising junior at the University of Alabama (UA), has penned a book about her experiences—“I AM: How to Own Your Truth and Go from Shame to Freedom,” which was published in March 2019. The book is about everything she has been through, including her mother being in and out of prison.

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Jayla Groom (Photo by: birminghamtimes.com)

 

By Ameera Steward

When Jayla Groom went on Facebook last year and saw her mother’s mugshot on Crime Stoppers with a “Wanted” caption she said to herself, “What is going on?”

“I felt like, ‘I can’t take this anymore. I don’t know what to do,” recalled Groom, whose mother has been in and out of jail throughout Groom’s entire life.

“She’ll go for like two years and come home,” said Groom, 20, who is second to the youngest in a family of six children.

Groom, from Hueytown and a rising junior at the University of Alabama (UA), has penned a book about her experiences—“I AM: How to Own Your Truth and Go from Shame to Freedom,” which was published in March 2019. The book is about everything she has been through, including her mother being in and out of prison.

She decided to write it after a woman said to her, “You’re only 20 years old. What have you been through?”

“I was tired of being ashamed, and I was tired of hiding it from people. Groom said. “Most of my friends didn’t even know, and some of them still don’t know because some of them still haven’t read the book. … I was wearing a mask, hiding it, and I just got tired of that.”

The book is about “going from shame to freedom because, now, … [even though] I care that my mom [is] in jail and it does hurt, I’m not ashamed of it anymore. That made me who I am today. It wasn’t my story to tell, but it was part of my story because that is my mom, and my mom is like my best friend.”

Groom said her mom is doing OK and is still in county jail, where she’s been since September 2018.

“We’re still hoping for a good outcome,” said Groom, who added that her mother knows about the book and is proud of her daughter for writing it.

The book doesn’t mention exactly what led to Groom’s mother’s incarceration.

“It was kind of like stuff was still following her, and she couldn’t get away from it,” Groom said. “Once you do something [and] it goes unnoticed for a long time, eventually it’s going to catch up with you. That’s kind of what happened.”

She added that her mother was still struggling with things that were leading her back into the situation.

“I AM: How to Own Your Truth and Go from Shame to Freedom” is autobiographical, Groom said: “From the earliest memory I can recall, when my cousin told me my mom was in jail for the first time, all the way up until now, when that same cousin went to jail for capital murder.”

Freedom from Above

Groom said she was able to face her challenges with “prayer, fasting, and crying out to God.”

“When I told God, ‘I don’t want to go into my 20s in bondage,’ He gave me freedom,” she said. “I honestly can’t tell you [anything] I did [besides] ask God.”

Given all she’s been through, Groom said she had to write her book, which she completed in nine months, during which time she did both her own 21-day fast and a 40-day fast with her church, Oasis of Praise in Bessemer.

“I heard God tell me to tell my story,” she said. “I was telling Him, ‘Please don’t let this go viral, don’t let people start sharing [my mom’s picture on Facebook].’ It was in those moments that it was like, ‘You have an option. They’re going to see it. You can tell your side.’

“I said, ‘OK, I’m not going to get on stage and just go off on a rant about my mom being in jail, so what do you want me to do?’ It was like my eyes were opened and I heard, ‘You need to write a book.’”

Groom didn’t take it seriously at first, she said, “but it was deeper than that. God showed me … as I started writing.”

Loss of a Classmate

Groom said the story doesn’t end badly “because I understand what’s attached to family and what is trying to hinder us.”

“So, now it’s … what God has called me to do—to lead my family out of that because I understand now how the devil is trying to attack us and what he’s trying to place on us.”

Groom said she started by writing just a few titles for chapters, and looking back she has a lot to draw from.

“Going into my senior year [at McAdory High School], I think it was literally the first day of school, one of my classmates passed away,” Groom recalled. “At that moment, … I asked, ‘Why?’ I was messed up about his passing. I just could not understand. He wasn’t even 20 years old, and I couldn’t understand what was going on.

“It was at that point when I decided, ‘OK, it’s time for me to tell my truth because what if I’ve been through something that will help somebody else, something that will prevent them from doing stuff or lead them in a different direction in life?’”

Groom said her classmate, who died in a car accident, “was always happy, always smiling, always late to class. Even in the worst times, he could be getting in trouble, he was still laughing. … That’s why I think I took it so hard. We were in homeroom together every year since the eighth grade. … It just felt like out of all people, why him?”

She felt she needed to write about him because she never had to deal with death.

“For it to be someone I basically grew up with from middle school to high school, stages of your life when you’re becoming who you are, I just never thought it would be him. This wasn’t even the first classmate [of mine] that had passed away, but this one really did something to me.”

“Living My Best Life”

Groom said the book is a coming-of-age story. It includes the times when she would watch soap operas with her nanny, when she was in situations with boys; it addresses issues, such as depression, being suicidal, and her relationship with her father; it recalls her struggle with sex, as well as almost dropping out of school “because it was just too much. I felt like [school] was too much to deal with.”

Groom wants readers to understand that it doesn’t matter what you’ve been through, what you’re going through, what you’ve done, “you can still go from shame to freedom.”

“When people read my book, I want them to understand that those things don’t define you,” she said. “They help you become who you are going to become. … You can still do a complete 180 and be made new and transformed by what you’re going through.”

Since publishing the book, Groom said, “I can live my best life now.”

“I feel free. I don’t feel burdened. I don’t feel ashamed. Of course, those things still come up when people walk up to me and ask, ‘What’s your book about?’ … I feel those moments when I don’t want to open up about everything and people want me to go into detail. Then again, I know I’m called to this, so I open my mouth and tell them.”

Groom owns her truth now.

“It is what it is. This who I am. This is what I’ve been through. Now you can watch me as God takes me to where I’m going. … I’m not where I’m going to be; He’s still showing me and molding me. I’m also not perfect,” she said, adding that she still struggles sometimes.

“I guess people see that I wrote a book and think, ‘OK, Jayla has it all together,’” said Groom. “Jayla still deals with a lot of different things. I still feel alone sometimes. I still feel like depression tries to come on me, but now I just have the power and authority, and I know I don’t have to go through those things. I can just claim me, and I don’t have to be under … whatever is trying to cloud me.”

Using Her Voice

Groom, who is majoring in communications with a psychology minor at UA, wants to use her platform to reach others, so she does motivational speeches in Birmingham churches and at different events.

“Most of the time I get up there and preach the Word of God,” she said. “I take … what’s in scripture and basically apply it to my life to show them this is what God said, this is what happened in my life, this is [how you succeed] if you follow God and live for God.”

Everything Groom talks about, she said, involves God because “I don’t know where I would be without Him.”

“I AM: How to Own Your Truth and Go from Shame to Freedom” is available at Amazon.com (search for the book title). To learn more about Jayla, visit www.jaylamgroom.com.

For more author stories, click one of the links below. 

Mother and 7 year old daughter encourage girls to see beauty; not differences

Khalil Saadiq wrote book that he says “will read you”

Neena Speer’s first year in law school made her better attorney — and an author

This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.

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Birmingham Times

Mother and 7 Year-Old Daughter Encourage Girls to See Beauty; not Differences

BIRMINGHAM TIMES — Dee Edwards remembers her daughter Aubrey coming home from school one day upset that she didn’t look like her friends. The girl questioned things like the color of her skin and her hair texture and expressed feelings of wanting to be like everyone else.

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Dee (left) and Aubrey Edwards with their book "We Are Different & We Are Beautiful" (Ameera Steward, The Birmingham Times)

By Ameera Steward

Dee Edwards remembers her daughter Aubrey coming home from school one day upset that she didn’t look like her friends. The girl questioned things like the color of her skin and her hair texture and expressed feelings of wanting to be like everyone else.

Dee wanted her child and other girls of color to know that they may be different, but they’re still beautiful. Because Aubrey was in a diverse environment, Dee felt it was important to write their book “We Are Different and We Are Beautiful,” which was released in May of this year; the target audience is girls ages 4 to 7.

The book has two main characters, Aubrey, who is African American, and Hannah, who is white and one of Aubrey’s kindergarten friends.

“It was important for Aubrey and me to look at her friends and [note that] they’re different—and perfect and beautiful just the way they are,” Dee said.

“Not Alone”

The book went beyond Aubrey’s school.

“I started seeing different reality shows with little girls who looked like Aubrey, and … they were talking about the exact same thing I had to talk to Aubrey about,” said Dee. “I also saw a Facebook video in which the little girl was crying because she was different from her friend, and I just kept seeing it. … Plus, suicide rates among some little girls or little kids are starting to rise, and it’s mostly because they don’t understand that they can be different and beautiful at the same time.”

Dee wanted to let other kids and parents know, “You’re not alone with having to address this subject.”

Dee said she first started talking about differences among people when her daughter was in kindergarten. Aubrey, who attends Paine Primary School in Trussville, said she feels better knowing she can be different and beautiful simultaneously.

Dee and Aubrey, the co-author, started the book with Dee asking Aubrey questions and recognizing what made Aubrey different from some of her friends.

“I realized that getting her opinion on certain things helped me pull out what she saw as different,” Dee said.

For instance, one section of the book reads “My hair is curly, and Hannah’s hair is straight. I am glad that we are friends and we are classmates. We are different and we are beautiful.”

“Educational Twist”

The authors used several techniques to put an “educational twist” on “We Are Different and We Are Beautiful.”

The words rhyme, and there is a sight-word section that includes words children are encouraged to memorize by sight, so they can automatically recognize them. The back of the book also includes a confession, or affirmation, that parents can read with their children. In addition to the reading book, Dee and Aubrey also published an activity book, which includes coloring pages, word searches, and a section in which children can write their own confessions, as well as draw pictures of themselves and their best friends.

“I did some research and, according to stressfreekids.com, [learned that] coloring can reduce anxiety and anger and have positive effects on the brains, moods, and emotions of children and adults,” Dee said. “So, I wanted to just give kids an outlet for when … they feel overwhelmed. Parents really don’t realize that they can give [children] activities to do to help reduce anxiety.”

Building Self-Confidence

Each activity leads back to building a child’s self-confidence. For example, the word search encourages children to find words that describe themselves—words like amazing, faithful, or blessed—and that parents can use to engage the children in conversation by asking questions like “Why do you feel amazing?” “What do you do to feel amazing?”

Dee said, “We found that little girls under the age of 10 tend to enjoy [the book] the most. We wanted to start at a young age because … getting them to start loving what is different about them at a young age is going to help them with accepting other kids who are different, [as well as] help them accept themselves even if they are bullied or talked about.”

Aubrey spoke about what happened when she was bullied and how it made her feel.

“[I felt] pretty sad … because every time I go to a new school, they always bully me. They bully me first, and then we start being friends. … I kept coming to my parents and … telling them people bully me badly. … People called me fat or stupid, and I didn’t like it.”

When Aubrey feels a certain way or is crying and upset about something someone has said, her mother always reminds her of the book and tells her “… we are different and we are beautiful.”

“I tell her to go read it to remind her of who she is and that being different is beautiful,” Dee added. “It makes me feel really good that we have a resource she can turn to. It makes me feel amazing, just being able to empower her and to show her that she can use what’s been against her to work in her favor.”

More Than a Mom

The Edwards family lives in Trussville. Aubrey has two brothers, and her mother Dee co-owns DeeEdwardsOnline.com with her husband, Michael Edwards. The couple works with startups to help them build profitable and sustainable businesses, especially in the tax industry. Dee also owns several tax firms, under the name Accurate Tax Services.

Dee started her business ventures a decade ago, after being laid off. She also has published five books about business or faith, and she and her husband plan to publish more books to teach faith-based entrepreneurs how to build successful businesses God’s way. The couple runs a mentorship program called the Entrepreneur Circle. They also are in the process of building a small-business hub called The Connect, which will have conference rooms, training rooms, co-working space, a meeting lounge, and private office space rentals, as well as podcast and audio rooms.

“Relatable”

For now, the family is spending a lot of time getting the word out about “We Are Different and We Are Beautiful.”

“I think [the book] is relatable,” Dee said. “That’s the reason it was important for us to make it educational: … so teachers, principals, or officials would be more accepting of adding this to schools. That’s our next goal.”

In the meantime, the authors are spreading the book’s message across Birmingham. On May 13, Dee and Aubrey had a book signing at Off the Wall in Crestwood and a book reading at the Trussville Library on July 18.

And Aubrey is enjoying the process. Writing the book was a fun experience, she said, and it helped her not care about what people tell her.

“I just walk away,” Aubrey said, adding that she handles bullying differently: “When they bully me, I just read the book and maybe do the activities.”

Aubrey also looks at herself differently now: “I’m beautiful. I’m pretty. I’m a good girl. I’m loved.”

“We Are Different and We Are Beautiful” is available via several online retailers, including Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Books a Million (search for the book title). To learn more about Dee Edwards, visit DeeEdwardsOnline.com.

For more author stories, click one of the links below. 

Jayla Groom penned book after seeing her mom’s ‘wanted’ mugshot on Crimestoppers

Khalil Saadiq wrote book that he says “will read you”

Neena Speer’s first year in law school made her better attorney — and an author

This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.

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Books

Summer Book Reviews

WASHINGTON INFORMER — The truth is, though, summer’s halfway over and you’ve done everything you wanted to do so now you’re (do you dare say it?) bored. Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek!  So maybe it’s time to find some fun inside a book. These three have what you need.

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Photo by: washingtoninformer.com

By Terri Schlichenmeyer

“The Floor is Lava” by Ivan Brett
c.2019, Gallery Books
$14.99 (higher in Canada)
252 pages

“You Are Awesome” by Matthew Syed
c.2019, Sourcebooks
$14.99 (higher in Canada)
160 pages

“United Tastes of America: An Atlas of Food Facts & Recipes from Every State!” by Gabrielle Langholtz, drawings by Jenny Bowers, photos by DL Acken
c.2019, Phaidon
$29.95 ($39.95 Canada)
239 pages

Mom says if she hears it one more time, she’s going to scream.

The truth is, though, summer’s halfway over and you’ve done everything you wanted to do so now you’re (do you dare say it?) bored. Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek!  So maybe it’s time to find some fun inside a book. These three have what you need…

If you think you’ve played every game there is this summer, look inside “The Floor is Lava” by Ivan Brett,and think again. In this book, you’ll find all kinds of games you can play by yourself or with others, with or without props, non-electronically, at home or anywhere you happen to be.

Play “Murder in Paradise” while you still have some vacation left. Get your baby brother to play the “Squiggle Challenge” with you. Try “The Silent Game” when your parents say you should simmer down. Play “Six Degrees of Separation” with a smarty pants. Here’s another tip: if you’re a babysitter, there are things in this book that little kids can play, too, and that’ll make you the best babysitter ever.

So let’s say you’re spending the rest of your summer by yourself, no other kids around. Then you need “You Are Awesome” by Matthew Syed, a good sharp pencil and a good sharp mind. That’s because this book is going to make you think, but in a good way that you’ll like. It’ll give you a nice confidence boost, and some stories to read that will show you how others became their most awesome selves, too.

And finally, here’s a way to beat boredom and get fed: “United Tastes of America” by Gabrielle Langholtz, drawings by Jenny Bowers, photos by DL Acken. Yum, this cookbook will teach you all about the foods beloved by folks in each state of America, and a few facts about the states themselves. Then, you’ll find recipes you can try with the help of an adult because some recipes are easy but some are really challenging and you’ll want expert assistance in the kitchen.

Bon appetite! No more excuses. And with these great books – no more boredom!

More than perhaps anything in the world, you hate when your child utters the “B-word.” Boredom should be banished, so eliminate it with these three fun books.

No matter what kind of kid you’ve got – quiet, boisterous, loner, or friend-magnet – these three books speak to that child’s heart. “The Floor is Lava” is for groups of kids or just one or two, and most of its activities require little-to-no materials. It’s the perfect book to spark imagination and creativity. “You Are Awesome” is great for the introspective child, or the kid who needs a boost for this fall; any child who’s heading to a new school will benefit from it. And “United Tastes of America” is great for the budding chef but be sure you stick around to help.

These books are just right for kids ages 10-and-up and are not just for summer. Get them, and your kids will scream with fun any time.

This post originally appeared in The Washington Informer.

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