Do you know what can happen over a span of 10 years?
Let me help you…
Personally, my oldest daughter has grown from a thirteen-year-old into a young woman with a college degree and a full time job (my pockets cry amen).
My youngest has gone from a toddler to a middle-schooler with aspirations to be a professional ballerina. A goal I’ll do whatever I can to help her reach – to the dismay of my wallet.
I’ve gone from a debut author to, dare I say, a veteran with five books under my name and a sixth soon to come.
And that’s to say nothing of the world itself having traveled from a place of hope, as our first Black president came to the end of his first term onto his second, to one of abject confusion as we face the consequences of electing a President supported by bigots and hate groups.
Yes, a lot can happen in ten years. But what hasn’t changed is my passion for the world to embrace a wider variety of books that feature and include characters of color by authors of color. Sure, my absence from The Brown Bookshelf as a contributor might make you wonder about that. No need to. I’m as committed to that cause as I was, ten long years ago, when I approached an author I knew only from a message board. When I think back on it now, I wonder where I got the nerve to think that he and I, me a brand new author and he a relatively new one, could start a movement designed to bring attention to our voices.
Had Varian and I had given any real thought to it, we would have both said no. It would have made more sense. We were both WWW – working while writing. In other words, writing was not our full time job. It was something we did on our lunch hours, after our family’s had gone to bed, or on scraps of paper while sitting at a stop light commuting to work. Neither of us had the time, to be truthful. And we were essentially strangers to one another. All we knew about one another was what we purported to be on the message boards. And yet, he said yes when I said – Hey…maybe we should join forces.
I shouldn’t speak for him, but I believe we did so out of instinct (it was just right) and survival. We knew we couldn’t entrench ourselves in a bubble of only authors of color. The world is bigger than any one circle you belong to. But we also knew if we didn’t advocate for voices like ours – who would?
Along the way, that instinct led us to invite Kelly and Don into our vision. And they have carried the torch the last five years, inviting new authors to sustain this very important site. I remain in awe of it. Of what it stands for, a beacon for librarians, parents and other gatekeepers of children literature. And of what it is – a strong voice that will never be silenced despite those wishing to dilute the importance of diverse books.
Over the years, I’d sometimes get frustrated. I so badly wanted The Brown Bookshelf to be validated by traditional publishers and traditional news outlets that guided folks to books. I wanted us to be THE voice to help folks find good books featuring our stories.
And early on, we faced mild criticism wanting us to be more inclusive beyond African American authors. After all “brown” encompasses a great many people.
But every good fight starts with a step. And no war can be waged alone.
The Brown Bookshelf was started to help brown authors – those primarily of African American descent. Along the way, we have made many allies to ensure the message supports inclusion of all types. So it’s doing what we hoped it would. And while some days I still feel like we’re at the start line of the race to diversify publishing, our Open Declaration in Support of Children is exactly why BBS exists – to galvanize our voices so that inclusion of our stories, by us, is understood to be a right not a privilege.
Happy Anniversary to a warrior in the fight for inclusion. A luta continua*!
*The struggle continues!