During Black History Month my eyes were opened by two exceptional African American females: Carole Boston Weatherford and Marley Dias. They are linked by a love for writing and a love for reading, but even more importantly, they both understand the value and influence of seeing one’s own resemblance in a book. As an African American, I find it to be an uplifting experience to see positive literary images that bear my reflection. Both the author and the student put a smile on my face that was slow to fade.
I had the pleasure of meeting the author Carol Boston Weatherford at the 15th Annual African American Cultural Celebration held at the North Carolina Museum of History. The free cultural celebration was host to over 75 musicians, storytellers, dancers, authors, artists and chefs. Ms. Weatherford was a featured author in an intimate book talk where she gave interactive readings of several of her children’s books. All of the books featured African American characters. Weatherford shared biographies with attractive illustrations of such famous African Americans as Gordon Parks, renowned photographer; Leontyne Price, celebrated opera singer; and Fannie Lou Hammer, civil rights heroine.
My favorite Weatherford book was Jazz Baby. The colorful cover drew me in with its diverse combination of children and musical instruments gleefully jamming. I was so taken that I wanted to jump into the book cover and join the band! The author led the audience through the book as we yelled out “Jazz Baby, Jazz Baby” on cue. It felt good to engulf the senses with playful, positive images.
Up the coast from North Carolina in New Jersey, an 11-year-old named Marley Dias was tired of reading books at school about white boy adventures with and without their dogs. She knew that there were other age-appropriate books that reflected the escapades of females and children of other cultures. Her Jamaican mother had always encouraged Marley to read, and the books she had at home featured African American girls that looked like her. She enjoyed living vicariously through their experiences and learning lessons from how the characters behaved. As Marley became increasingly agitated about the reading choices at school, her mother asked her what she was going to do about it. Marley decided to launch a social media campaign, #1000 Black Girl Books.
During Black History Month, Marley has appeared in several media outlets including NPR, CBS This Morning, The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore and Ellen to talk about her goal of collecting 1000 books with black girls as the main characters. Her get-up-and-go spirit has encouraged donations well beyond her original 1000-book target, enabling her to donate books to school children in Jamaica and New Jersey. The poised sixth grader is a refreshing image in a sea of negativity, and she is the ultimate spokesperson for the power of seeing your own reflection in a book. Marley’s next goal is to get school boards to assign diverse character books of all genres for students. A child has taught us the importance of identifying with positive images that are more personal because of similar identity.
After being exposed to Carol Boston Weatherford and Marley Dias, I believe that they have made a case for the importance of children seeing positive images in print that are a reflection of themselves. This is not just an issue for Black History Month. In reality, I can believe what I dream if I can read it.