As we neared the end of the Amplify Black Stories celebration, a question from Denise Aduesi, Co-founder of Black Creators in KidLit, popped into the chat: How do you balance writing and activism?
Thanks to the enthusiastic response from those attending, the question flitted by as quickly as it had popped onscreen while folks weighed in on the celebration. I swam through the responses to let Denise know that we could talk offline. By then we’d said our goodbyes and the zoom blinked off. The question lingered in my head.
The answer that rang over again was – I never had a choice in this. It’s just what I do.
Which doesn’t answer the balance. Just gives you a peek into my problem-solving heart.
Balance is a funny thing. You can feel like you’re doing it well while also knowing you’re definitely leaving something out. Sleep, maybe. One thing I can’t help asking all the time – would my writing be stronger, better, sell more if I put my head down and solely focused on it?
After all, I have a day job. My attention is already permanently split by it and being an active, present member of my family as a wife, mother and daughter. Surely, I should step aside and let someone else pick up the torch for inclusion in children’s literature. Isn’t fourteen years long enough to carry the baton? The field has way more soldiers than it did when we started The Brown Bookshelf. Right?
Except, I had no choice in this. And who am I to complain when folks like The Hudsons, founders of Just Us Books, remain in this fight, thirty years strong and running? Surely, they didn’t think it would take this long to see more progress in inclusion and equity. Surely, they’re tired.
I bet they never felt they had a choice either.
We all do our work differently. We all must find a way to do it while remaining artists. So, what gets left out while we do this work?
You have to stay healthy mind, body and soul.
You have to stay present with your family.
What gets left out?
I’m still learning the answer to that. What I know, when there’s an absence of justice or equality or inclusion for one it spreads. When we’re okay with a single group representing what our experiences are, what our voices sound like or what we should look like in books, on screen, then we play a part in our own erasure.
My best answer to how you balance writing with activism is:
- Find a group who will help you bear the load. Who will keep singing when you’ve grown hoarse. Who will carry you a few steps when your feet are sore. This is how we’ve kept BBS going.
- Remember that you’re an artist first. The work is for your community. But your Art is your livelihood and, if you’re like me, it’s your passion. It has to come first. Set hard boundaries and when you have to, go back to the first piece of advice. Your circle understands.
- Don’t be afraid to use the platform you help build to highlight your Art. I’m saying this to myself too. I amplify others before I do myself and when I amplify myself I feel guilty and greedy. I’m working on that.
The BBS Board cares deeply about young readers and the artists who work to reflect them. And our work takes away from our Art. It just does. How much? I can’t say. I don’t know that any of us ever bothers to quantify. And frankly, if we did, we might rethink doing this work.
Except, when you give back, in this way, it comes back to you. It’s not why you do it. But, the blessings are real and if you believe in karma points, well you get them in abundance. All you can ask, when you choose this path, is that the community you give back to remembers that you’re one of them. Ask that they reciprocate the amplification so we all continue to rise.
Amplify Black Stories is a partnership initiative between The Brown Bookshelf, Highlights Foundation, Renee Watson and Cheryl and Wade Hudson to empower Black kid lit creatives with resources and community; and promote publisher-collaborations to craft detailed actionable programs of support for Black kid lit creatives.