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COME LEARN THE STORY AND LEGACY OF WASHINGTON, DC’S AFRICAN AMERICAN AUTHORS OF CHILDREN'S LITERATURE:

Lucille Clifton, Sharon Bell Mathis, Eloise Greenfield, Carolivia Herron, May Miller Sullivan, Sterling Brown, Gwendolyn Brooks, Daphne Muse, Jason Reynolds,

Kwame Alexander, Jabari Asim, Joy Jones, Tricia Elam Walker, among others 

 

COME MEET THE PEOPLE AND INSTITUTIONS THAT STOOD AGAINST RACISM AND INEQUALITY TO HELP EXPAND AN AFRICAN AMERICAN LITERARY CANON THAT BUILT AND FORTIFIED A COMMUNITY.

 

MARCH 2, 2024
8:30am -6:30pm
125 Michigan Ave. NE
Washington, DC 20017
(on the campus of Trinity Washington University)

 

IT’S FREE.

 

REGISTRATION IS REQUIRED

(estherproductionsinc.com/events)

JOIN THE GROWING LIST OF FUNDERS AND SPONSORS

HumanitiesDC, Kerry Pearson LLC, The Robert Bobb GroupBusboys and Poets

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
JOIN THIS UNPRECEDENTED EVENT

SEE THE EXHIBITION. MEET AWARD-WINNING, BEST-SELLING AUTHORS. LISTEN TO ANALYSES AND INSIGHTS FROM LITERARY HISTORIANS, ARTISTS, ACTIVISTS, PIONEERING BOOKSTORE OWNERS AND PUBLISHERS.

 
 
 
 
THE SCHEDULE

 

8:45 am- WELCOME & AUTHOR ROLL CALL

9:00 am- OPENING SPEAKER: SIDNEY CLIFTON 

          Emmy-nominated producer Sidney Clifton has over twenty years of experience as an        executive producer, director and creative executive overseeing animated, mixed-media and live-action content. She has produced hundreds of hours of episodic and longform content, a partial list can be found at her imdb page here. She has produced children’s and primetime content on Apple TV+, BET, NBC, Showtime, Paramount, and Hallmark Channel, and serves on the Board of Directors of The Academy of American Poets. In her role as mentor and recruiter, she has been a featured presenter, guest, and commencement speaker at colleges and universities across North America.

       Ms. Clifton’s passion for developing and supporting the underserved community of writers, artists, storytellers and creators was the catalyst for her launching The Clifton House (www.thecliftonhouse.co); a writer’s and artist’s workshop and retreat space centered at her childhood home in Baltimore Maryland—the home she shared with her five siblings and parents, artist/activist Fred J. Clifton and National Book Award winning poet and author Lucille Clifton.  

9:20 am—EXHIBITION OPENS

9:30 am- SYMPOSIUM BEGINS

 

9:30- 11:00 am: REMOVING THE MASK, AMPLIFYING OUR VOICES: The Struggle of Black Authors to Get Their Stories for Children Depicting Authentic African-American Life, History and Culture Published by Mainstream Companies

BACKGROUND: For many years, books with Black characters that made it to the mainstream were written by white authors; unsurprisingly, they were steeped in stereotypical depictions of African Americans—their lives, their communities, their culture. This occurred not because there were no Black writers of talent, practicing their art, their craft. The African-American literary canon extends as far back as the 18th Century.

 

The District of Columbia proved a literary treasure trove with many authors living and/or working in the nation’s capital; some attended Howard University. They frequently gathered on the campus or at the home of poet Georgia Douglas Johnson for regular salons. Later, that history would be bolstered by others, like Gwendolyn Brooks, who became the first Black person to win the Pulitzer Prize for her book Annie Allen. Decades later, she became the first Black Poetry Consultant for the Library of Congress; the position was renamed Poet Laureate. When her editor asked her why she wrote, Brooks said, “To prove to others (by implication, not by shouting) and to such among themselves who have yet to discover it, that they are merely human beings, not exotics.”

 

That seemed the motivation for many African Americans writing during the 1950s and into  the 1960s and even the 1970s when Sharon Bell Mathis, Annie Crittenden and Eloise Greenfield founded The DC Black Writers’ Workshop. Unlike many others of their generation, they were tapping into a rich vein of Black creativity that over the years had received little attention—not even from many African Americans: children’s literature.

There had been Black authors of children’s literature since the New Negro Movement; W.E.B. DuBois with Jessie Redmon Fauset created The Brownies’ Book: A Monthly Magazine for Children of the Sun in 1920. By 1921 it had ceased publication, however. African American historian and author Carter G. Woodson, Ph.D. also published stories and poems through the Associated Publishers, a company that featured the works of Black writers.

Writing in 2023 in The New York Times, Celia McGee noted DuBois and Fauset believed that “if Black children saw themselves represented at all in the prevailing culture of the 1920s, it was in degrading caricatures in advertising and on consumer packaging, in magazines, newspapers and children’s literature itself.”

Just as Dubois and Fauset, along with their peers, sought to change that reality, Crittenden, Mathis and Greenfield arrived with the same determination. Changing the paradigm would be no easier for them. By the late 20th Century and in the opening chapters of the 21st Century, the list of African-American authors of children’s books seemed to be expanding. Still, many were forced to publish their own books, seek out independent companies if they wanted their books to live and find a place in the homes of African American families.

According to the University of Wisconsin’s Cooperative Children’s Book Center, in 2000, less than 3% of the children’s books published that year had Black characters; in raw numbers, only 147 of more than 5,000 books had Black characters. Not all of them were written by African-American authors. In 2019, the Center reported that only 12% of the “books published were about Black or African-American primary characters. ”Those numbers suggest that Black writers’ fight has continued for space, freedom, support, the opportunity to demonstrate that they are “human beings—not exotics” and for the opportunity to showcase in words—lyrical, poetic and dramatic—their story, their history, their culture and along the way to pave a road for greater Black advancement for themselves, for their children.

Presentations by Bernard Demczuk, Ph,D.;  Carolivia Herron, Ph.D; Wynn Yarbrough, Ph.D; and jonetta rose barras.

 

 

 

 

 

 

11:00-11:30 am- BOOK SIGNING & Lunch (on your own)

 

11:30 am- 12:45 pm—IN CONVERSATION-- An exciting and provocative conversation between award-winning author Sharon Bell Mathis, a leader of The Golden Age of Black Children’s Literature, and Grammy nominee and literary activist poet E. Ethelbert Miller

 

BACKGROUND: Sharon Bell Mathis, co-founded DC’s Black Writers’ Workshop with Annie Crittenden and Eloise Greenfield in the early 1970s. She led the group’s children’s division, making her a key force in the literary community of African American authors. Mathis helped guide emerging writers, providing opportunities for training and connecting them with key resources. Eloise Greenfield credits Mathis with inspiring her to venture into children’s writing. Specifically, she introduced Greenfield to an editor who was looking for someone to pen a biography.

 

Since the 1970s, there hasn’t been an African-American writer—local or national— including Mathis, whose career wasn’t touched in some way by Miller. A poet, anthologist, memoirist and children’s writer, Miller served for 40 years as the director of the African-American Resource Center at Howard University, founding director of the Ascension Poetry Reading Series and an official and unofficial adviser for nearly every Black writers’ conference held in the District of Columbia, among other roles.

This special conversation brings together two literary activists and titans discussing their careers and the critical role played by DC authors in expanding the African-American canon and using literature—children’s literature—in advancing African Americans for future generations while fortifying their various communities.

 

 

 

 

12:45 - 2pm-- SEEING OURSELVES IN THE RIVER, IN THE MIRROR, IN THE WORLD: Illustrators Talk About the Challenge of Creating Images That Bring Black Children’s Books To Life.

BACKGROUND: African Americans were not only forced to endure stories written about them by white authors, but they also frequently had to suffer the humiliation of the images that made their way into some publications and books.  The greatest, most egregious impact came from the fact that too many of those depictions made it into children’s picture books. Who can forget Little Black Sambo, written by Helen Bannerman, which served as the stereotypical image of African Americans served to white children, and, unfortunately, Black children as well.

For Black authors, it wasn’t sufficient that they sought to tell an authentic story; they also wanted to show African-American life as it was truly lived--the challenges and the triumphs. In her 1922 essay “Negro Literature for Negro Pupils,” Alice Dunbar-Nelson, wife of Paul Laurence Dunbar, noted that “the ancient Greeks, wishing to impress upon their children the greatness of Hellas, made the schoolboys memorize Homer, particularly those passages dealing with war and conquests.” The Romans, the Hebrew[s], the Chinese, the French and others also advocated such educational pursuits, she argued. “The reason is obvious. If people are to be proud and self-respected, they must believe in themselves. Destroy a man’s beliefs in his own powers, and you destroy his usefulness—render him a worthless object, helpless and hopeless.”

Dunbar-Nelson lamented that already two generations of Black and brown children had been assaulted by a “blonde ideal of beauty to worship, milk-white literature to assimilate, and a pearly Paradise to anticipate, in which their dark faces would be hopelessly out of place.”

She was not alone in her assessment, which is why the movement wasn’t just to publish children’s books, but to ensure the art in those books expanded the standard of beauty, showcasing the range and wondrousness of Black people in America and around the world.

Presenters: Keesha Ceran; Jennifer Lawson; Justin Johnson, Joy Jones, Sheila Crider and Lesa Warrick

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2:00- 3:15pm: TRUNKS, SATCHELS AND THE US POSTAL SERVICE: Book Distributors and Store Owners Tell Their Story About Getting Black Books into the World by Any and All Means Necessary

BACKGROUND: Even after African American authors of children’s literature were able to get their books published, they also had to contend with the fact that sometimes their publishers did not provide a sufficient promotional or marketing budget to help expand the audience for their books. In cases where Black writers had published their own books, getting them out into the public was equally problematic. 

Historians have suggested that David Ruggles opened the first Black bookstore in 1834. An abolitionist, who seemed to have been a stop on the underground railroad, he argued that there could be no sustained freedom without such an establishment.

The careers of more than a few writers certainly were dependent on what could be described as the literary equivalent of the “Chitlin Circuit.” Like those early musicians and singers, authors also found themselves gaining access to only Black businesses—businesses to which, for all intents and purposes, they already knew and to which they likely were connected. Interestingly, in an article published by The Atlantic in February 2018, Joshua Davis wrote about the fight by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) under J. Edgar Hoover, its director, to destroy or prevent the development of independent Black distributors and book sellers. That was in 1968. Oddly in the 1960s, there were only about a dozen or so such businesses. They were and remain critical to the advancement of African Americans in the U.S. and other parts of the world.

“To publish our own books and to disseminate them in our own communities is one road toward self- determination and self-definition,” Haki Madhubuti (then known as Don Lee) when he opened his Third World Press in Chicago, Illinois.

In the District of Columbia, there were several businesses that ascribed to a similar philosophy, including Drum and Spear Bookstore, Black Classic Press, Pyramid Books, Sankofa Video Books and Cafe, Sisterspace and Books to name a few. Their mission wasn't without its own unique challenges.

Presenters: Kojo Nnamdi; Shirikiana Gerima; Paul Coates; Courtland Cox; and Vanessa Williams

3:30-4:45 pm: UNFINISHED BUSINESS, UNTOLD STORIES: A Look Beyond the Immediate Horizon to the Future of Children’s Literature Written by African American Authors

BACKGROUND: “Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?”  asked author Walter Dean Myers in an opinion editorial published in The New York Times on March 15, 2014.  Ninety-four years earlier, in 1920, W.E.B. DuBois, Jessie Redmon Fausett and other members of The New Negro Movement asked a similar question; that prompted them

to create The Brownies’ Book: A Magazine for Children of the Sun. Charlie Cobb, Courtland Cox, Jennifer Lawson, Daphne Muse, Judy Richardson and others with Drum and Spear Bookstore made a comparable query when they decided to launch their press, publishing Eloise Greenfield first children’s book.

 

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose is how the French might respond. (The more things change, the more they stay the same.)

It might be easy to think that the fight in which Black authors, particularly Black authors of children’s literature, have been engaged has not produced tangible and significant outcomes, noticeable progress. Certainly, some of the same issues have persisted, sparked in no small measure by institutional racism--the same kind of discrimination that prevented authors from being publishedThere remains an apartheid, as author and illustrator Christopher Myers wrote in an op-ed--somewhat of a companion piece to his father’s article.

“The business of children’s literature enjoys ever more success, sparking multiple movie franchises and crossover readership, even as representations of young people of color are harder and harder to find,” wrote Christopher Myers. “This apartheid of literature—in which characters of color are limited to the townships of occasional historical books that concern themselves with the legacies of civil rights and slavery but are never given a pass card to traverse the lands of adventure, curiosity, imagination or personal growth—has two effects.”

“When kids today face the realities of our world, our global economies, our integrations and overlappings, they all do so without a proper map,” wrote Christopher Myers.

 

The national anti-racism protests ignited after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis, Minnesota police created fertile ground for advancement—the kind fueled by the New Negro Movement and by DC writers during the 1970s. In the commercial industry, African Americans, like Myers, have their own imprints. Kwame Alexander, a New York Times bestselling DC writer, owns with Harper Collins, the imprint Versify, whose mission is to “change the world, one word at a time.”

That’s a heavy lift, especially when Black writers of children’s literature continue to struggle over the industry's inadequate investment of their work, including sufficient marketing and promotional plans that result in a bigger presence in bookstores.  Can Alexander and other Black authors favorable affect those dynamics to achieve his state goal? Can they grow a new generation of African Americans who are able to use children’s literature to help them rise and find their place in the world as did their predecessors? What role can DC writers play in this new adventure? What role will they play? What will be said about them 40 years from now? 

Presenters: Joy Jones; Kwame Alexander; Tricia Elam Walker; David Miller, Ph.D; Tiffany Mitchell Patterson, Ph.D; and Leroy Nesbitt, Jr.

5:00 pm-Book Signing 

6:00 pm- Closing Comments: jonetta rose barras and Bernard Demczuk

 

 

BIOGRAPHIES OF PRESENTERS

 

 

KWAME ALXANDER is a poet, educator, producer and #1 New York Times bestselling author of 39 books, including Why Fathers Cry at Night, An American Story, The Door of No Return, Becoming Muhammad Ali (co-authored with James Patterson), Rebound, which was shortlisted for the prestigious UK Carnegie Medal, and The Undefeated, the National Book Award nominee, Newbery Honor, and Caldecott Medal-winning picture book illustrated by Kadir Nelson. 
A native of the Washington Metropolitan region, Kwame is the recipient of numerous awards, including The Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, The Coretta Scott King Author Honor, Three NAACP Image Award Nominations, and the 2017 Inaugural Pat Conroy Legacy Award. In 2018, he opened the Barbara E. Alexander Memorial Library and Health Clinic in Ghana, as a part of LEAP for Ghana, an international literacy program he co-founded. In January 2023, a Kennedy Center-commissioned national tour for young audiences began for Kwame’s musical Acoustic Rooster’s Barnyard Boogie. He is also the Executive Producer, Showrunner, and Writer of The Crossover TV series, based on his Newbery-Medal winning novel of the same name, which premiered on Disney+ in April 2023. The Crossover was produced in partnership with LeBron James' SpringHill Company and Big Sea Entertainment, Kwame's production company where he serves as CEO and Co-founder, dedicated to creating innovative, highly original children’s and family entertainment.

 

jonetta rose barras is the visionary and curator of African Americans and Children’s Literature: A Symposium and Exhibition Examining the Role of DC Black in Building Canon and Community from 1970s to the Present . A best-selling author, award-winning poet, essayist and journalist, she is seen by many as a Washington, DC political and cultural institution with an extensive history in the arts and humanities. In 1978, jonetta co-founded The Institute for the Preservation and Study of African American Writing--one of the first organizations to professionally document the District of Columbia's Black literary history; IPSAAW produced publications and exhibitions, conducted workshops for students and educators, and presented awards to people like children's author Eloise Greenfield and Negritude founder and poet Leon Damas. She helped launch and coordinated for three years the Black History Month Festival at the Kennedy Center in DC. She also designed and produced the Center's Cultural Diversity Festival, which demonstrated the intersection of African American, Asian and Hispanic culture. For several years, jonetta coordinated the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities’ Larry Neal Writers Conference, a citywide event held at the Folger Shakespeare Library and GW University. She also served as assistant director of the popular and influential Ascension Poetry Reading Series, founded by E. Ethelbert Miller. Barras has also built a successful career in journalism, writing for many of the newspapers in the nation’s capital including The Washington Afro American Newspaper, The Washington Times, The Washington City Paper and The Washington Post.  Jonetta is the author of the critically biography of Marion Barry “The Last of the Black Emperors: The Hollow Comeback of Marion Barry in the Age of New Black Leaders.”(Bancroft Press. In 2000, Randon House published her memoir “Whatever Happened To Daddy’s Little Girl? The Impact of Fatherlessness on Black Women.”  She is editor of several children’s poetry anthologies and editor of Discovering Me…Without You: Teen Girls Speak About Father Absence (Esther Productions Inc. Books 2020). Among her other books and published works are Bridges: Reuniting Daughters and Daddies (Bancroft Press 2005), and The Corner Is No Place For Hiding (Bunny and the Crocodile Press 1996). Her poetry and short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies including “Amazing Graces” (Paycock Press 2012) and “It’s All Love: Black Writers on Soul Mates, Family, and Friends” (Broadway Books 2009).

 

NAKEESHA  JEANNE CERAN serves as the Associate Director of Teaching for Change and is motivated by her passion for social justice to positively impact and influence her circles, both domestically and globally. She strives to present a mindset that focuses on equality and equity and is actively involved in community development, particularly as it relates to education policy, Haitian advocacy, and women’s interests in politics and racial reconciliation at the intersection of faith. A first-generation American of Haitian immigrants, Keesha has lived in many parts of the U.S.; she arrived in the District of Columbia area in 2008. She holds three degrees in political science and a double alumna of American University. 

 

W. PAUL COATES is the founder of Black Classic Press and BCP Digital Printing. Black Classic Press, founded in 1978, specializes in republishing obscure and significant works by and about people of African descent. BCP Digital Printing was founded in 1995 as a parallel entity of the Press. As a former African American Studies manuscript and reference librarian at Howard University's Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Paul was responsible for the collection  and acquisition of African American books and related materials. A former member of the Black Panther Party, he led the effort to establish the Black Panther Archives at Howard. He is a graduate of Atlanta University's School of Library and Information Studies, and SDC/Antioch University, from which he received as a distinguished alumni, the Doctorate in Philosophy, Honoris Causa in 2015.  He is an active Black bibliophile and collector of cultural artifacts. Mr. Coates is co-editor of Black Bibliophiles and Collectors: Preservers of Black History  (Howard Univ. Press). He was a founding member and chair of the National Association of Black Book Publishers.

 

COURTLAND COX, president of CCAP Consulting, LLC based in the District of Columbia, has a long and storied history in the civil rights movement and local and federal government service. From 1960 to 1962, while a Howard University student, he became a member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and served on its Executive Committee. He was the SNCC representative on the Steering Committee for the 1963 March on Washington. A year later, he was a key organizer for the Freedom Summer Project in Mississippi, working to help create the Mississippi Freedom Democratic party. He also helped organize the Lowndes Country Freedom Organization and Lowndes County Freedom Party in 1966. By 1968, Courtland and other SNCC leaders founded the Drum & Spear Bookstore and Drum & Spear Press, which published works by C.L.R James and children’s books, including Eloise Greenfield’s first publication “Bubbles.” Courtland was also one of the organizers of the Center for Black Education; it served as a place that advanced the study of African and African American life and culture. Unsurprisingly, Courtland later took his prodigious organizing skills into the DC government, working for many years in the administration of then-Mayor Marion Barry, before being appointed in 1998 by President Bill Clinton to serve as the Director of the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) at the U.S. Department of Commerce. Prior to his MBDA appointment, he held several positions at the Department of Commerce, serving under then Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown. At the turn of the 21st Century, Courtland returned to work with the District government, including a stint from 2004 to 2008 as direct of Small, Local, Business Development for the DC Sports & Entertainment Commission and later as a consultant.

 

SHEILA CRIDER co-founded The Institute for the Preservation and Study of African American Writing in the late 1970s with Rose Susan Dorsey and jonetta rose barras. That organization presented exhibitions that celebrated Washington, DC’s literary history, awarded the work of key women writers and conducted writing workshops for children throughout the city. IPAAW closed its doors after nearly a decade of programming.  Sheila turned her attention to the visual arts. A self taught artist, she is currently based in Baltimore after practicing in Washington, D. C. for most of her career. She has always made her living as an artist, starting with The Original Response Handmade Envelopes and Books in art fairs and craft markets. Encouraged by the public response to this work, she began submitting to open calls to exhibit collages and wall hangings made from the same hand dyed papers. In 2009, she was awarded the first of many public art projects. Commissions have included a lobby project for The Community of Hope (DC), original art for a children’s room for The DC Public Library and for Art-In-Public-Places DC. In 2022 and 2017 she was awarded $10,000 Artist Fellowships by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Her work is included in many public and private collections including Art-in-PublicPlaces (WDC), James E Lewis Museum (Baltimore, MD), Yale University Book Collection (New Haven, CT), State Department Print Collection (WDC), African American Museum (Dallas, TX), Ranger Italy (Serengo, Italy), Mino Washi Paper Museum (Mino, Japan), Hyatt Regency Hotel (Crystal City, VA) and the Library of Congress Print Collection (WDC)., 

 

 

BERNARD DEMCZUK, Ph.D. Bernard Demczuk holds a doctorate in African American history and culture from George Washington University and has spent most of his life in that field. He is currently a lecturer at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. He has designed and conducted tours tracking the life and times of famed abolitionist and statesman Frederick Douglass and freedom fighter Harriett Tubman on the Eastern Shore of Md. He has lectured extensively on DC’s Black history and culture. Bernard writes essays, poetry and fiction. His first novel, Mame's Spirit: Reparations and Romance (2021), is a historiography of West African spirituality, African warrior women fighting King Leopold II's reign of terror and the demand for reparations in the Congo and US. His new book is a biography: Breaking Barriers with Chili: Virginia Ali - DC’s Matriarch, forthcoming in Feb. 2024.

 

His early career was focused on African American political enfranchisement. He served DC Mayor Marion Barry as his labor advisor for over 25 years. He also served as Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr.'s labor advisor and director of his 1984 and 1988 presidential election. From 1984 through 1992 he was director of the Rainbow Coalition. Earlier, in 1982 and 1983, he worked on Congressman Harold Washington campaigns for Chicago mayor, as well as Mike Espy’s campaign in the Mississippi Delta, 1986 and ‘88. From 1964-1967, he was a volunteer in the Student NonViolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) movement in Cambridge, Md.

 

Bernard believes that history, culture and literature can be used as driving forces promoting social justice, racial equity and organizing for social and economic change and parity. He believes it starts with children’s literature.

 

SHIRIKIANA AINA GERIMA is an independent filmmaker in Washington, DC where she resides with her family.  She was born in Detroit, Michigan where she worked as a young person as a news announcer on WJZZ radio and volunteered with Project BAIT (Black Awareness in Television).  She received a BA in Radio. TV and Film at Howard University, and a MA in African Area Studies at UCLA.  She has taught film at Howard University, and is currently executive director of Positive Productions, a film services organization for independent black filmmakers.  With her husband Haile Gerima, Aina co-founded Mypheduh Films Distribution company and Negod Gwad Production company.  They have co-produced several films including: SANKOFA, THROUGH THE DOOR OF NO RETURN, FOOTPRINTS OF PAN AFRICANISM, BRICK BY BRICK, STERLING BROWN: AFTER WINTER,WILMINGTON 10-USA 10,000,TEZA, ADWA,ASHES AND EMBERS. Shirikiana and Haile co-founded Sankofa Video and Bookstore in Washington, DC, which specializes in books by and about people of African descent.  Shirikiana also has won numerous awards including Grand Prize, Documentary, Luxor Film Festival Berlin Film Festival ( Sankofa) Best Cinematography, FESPACO, Burkina Faso, Juror’s Discretionary Award in Film, Three Rivers Arts Festival, Black American Cinema Society, Honoree, Women in the Director’s Chair, AFI Awards, Community Choice Award, National Black Media Consortium, Prized Pieces. She is a scuba dive master, and an instructor with Youth Diving With a Purpose, an organization that trains young people to be marine archaeology advocates by mapping shipwrecks. Shirikiana is a proud mother of six and grandmother of two.  

 

BRIAN GILMORE is a native of Washington D.C., a poet and long-time public interest attorney. He is also the author of four books of poetry and numerous essays for The Progressive Magazine.  Brian has won numerous awards, including the 2020 Michigan Notable Book Award for his book, come see about me marvin (Wayne State University Press). He is Senior Lecturer in the Law and Society Program at the University of Maryland - College Park. 

 

CAROLIVIA HERRON, Ph.D.  is a creative writer. Lecturer in Classics, in the English Department, Howard University. She is also the host of  "Epic City" WOWD-LP Takoma Radio, 94.3 FM and the director of Director: Street to Street EpicCenter Stories Educational Programs in Reading Classics And Creating Community Epics Takoma, DC.

JUSTIN JOHNSON is a budding children’s book illustrator, gif animator, and aspiring art teacher. A recent graduate of Rhode Island School of Design with a major in illustration, he studied children’s book illustration as well as animation. Justin is a native Washingtonian (DC) who is interested in historical and nonfiction stories. He is a scratchboard artist, but also loves to draw and paint. He credits his mother and grandmother, both teachers, with inspiring his love of picture books and storytelling

 

JOY JONES is a popular speaker, trainer, and the author of several books for adults and children. Her most recent are Fearless Public Speaking, a how-to for teens, and Jayla Jumps In, a novel which received a starred review on Booklist and chosen as one of the best sports books for children by the American Library Association. Her novel in progress, Walking the Boomerang, won the 2022 Pen America/ Phyllis Naylor Grant for Children's and Young Adult Novelists. Joy's next book is The Sky Is Not Blue which debuts Summer, 2024. She works for DC Public Library. 

 

JENNIFER LAWSON first marched for civil rights in 1963 as a 16-year-old in what became known as the Children’s Crusade, in support of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who had been jailed in Birmingham, AL.  She attended Tuskegee University and eventually left to work full-time with SNCC in Lowndes County, Alabama where she drew billboards, comics, booklets, and leaflets in support of the Lowndes County Freedom Organization, publicizing the work of the people of Lowndes County and their political party's symbol, the black panther.  She is featured in an award-winning 2022 film about this subject, Lowndes County and the Road to Black Power. In 1968, she helped establish Drum and Spear Bookstore and Drum and Spear Press. She illustrated and co-authored the book Children of Africa and oversaw the translation and publication of a Kiswahili version, Watoto wa Afrikain Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Jennifer later became the first chief programming executive at PBS. In the 1990s she was named one of the “101 Most Influential People in Entertainment Today,” by Entertainment Weekly. In 2016, she was honored with the Ralph Lowell Award, public television’s highest award. Currently, she is a board member of the SNCC Legacy Project and has been actively working in its partnership at Duke University to create the SNCC Digital Gateway.

SHARON BELL MATHIS moved to DC, after graduating from Morgan State University, where she earned a degree in sociology. She subsequently taught at the university. In 1975, she earned a master’s in library science from Catholic University. But Sharon’s career as author of children’s literary was always in full swing.  Her works was brought to the attention of publishers by a contest sponsored by the Council on Interracial Books for Children. The rest is history, as the saying goes. Sharon became a celebrated, award-winning author. One of her early middle-grade novels, Sidewalk Story, was chosen as a Child Study Association of America’s Children’s Book of the Year. Tea Cup Full of Roses, another middle-grade, was recognized as a notable title by the American Library Association (ALA). In 1974, she won the Coretta Scott King Author Award for her picture book, Ray Charles. (Illustrator George Ford won the first Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for that title too.) And in 1976, Sharon won a Newbery Honor for The Hundred Penny Box, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon.  Whether writing about the life of Ray Charles, exploring the rich bond between a boy and his great-great aunt in The Hundred Penny Box or a girl with a dream of running like the greats in Running Girl: The Diary of Ebonee Rose, Sharon writes stories that celebrate the fortitude, resilience and beauty of African-Americans.

 

 

DAVID C. MILLER, Ph.D., a Baltimore native, uses his academic training and innate street skills to lead healing circles with men and boys, focusing on decision-making, impulse control, mental health awareness, and managing anger. Miller reconciled his issues with trauma and street violence growing up in West Baltimore to launch an innovative publishing company focused on children's books. Miller aims to shatter the lack of diversity in the children's book industry by creating stories with relatable characters that promote racial pride and contain fun storylines and rich illustrations. Khalil's Way, Gabe & His Green Thumb,Brooklyn's Finest: The Greene Family Farm, Winnie the Wizard of Wall Street, and Ida B., the Beekeeper are a few of Miller's children's book titles. Miller completed his Ph.D. in the School of Social Work at Morgan State University and lives with his family in Washington, DC.

 

 

E.ETHELBERT MILLER is a literary activist and author of two memoirs and several poetry collections. He hosts the WPFW morning radio show On the Margin with E. Ethelbert Miller and hosts and produces The Scholars on UDC-TV which received a 2020 Telly Award. He is Associate Editor and a columnist for The American Book Review. He was given a 2020 congressional award from Congressman Jamie Raskin in recognition of his literary activism, awarded the 2022 Howard Zinn Lifetime Achievement Award by the Peace and Justice Studies Association, and named a 2023 Grammy Nominee Finalist for Best Spoken Word Poetry Album. Ethelbert’s latest book is How I Found Love Behind the Catcher's Mask, published by City Point Press.
 

 

KOJO NNAMDI is host of The Politics Hour with Kojo Nnamdi, a live talk show produced by WAMU that airs Fridays at noon. Nnamdi joined WAMU in 1998 to host Public Interest. In 2002, the show was renamed as The Kojo Nnamdi Show, which he hosted until the show ended in April 2021. A longtime D.C. resident, Nnamdi emigrated to the United States in 1968 to attend college and explore the civil rights movement. During that period, he was associated with Drum & Spear Bookstore and involved with the Center for Black Education. From 1985 to 2011, he hosted Evening Exchange, a public affairs television program broadcast by WHUT-TV at Howard University. From 1973 to 1985, Nnamdi worked at WHUR-FM, where he served as news editor and then news director, producing the award-winning local news program The Daily Drum. In addition to his hosting duties, Nnamdi continues to moderate Kojo in Our Community events with WAMU. 

LEROY NESBITT, Jr is a graduate of Middlebury College and Howard University School of Law. Following his graduation from law school he clerked for the Honorable George W. Mitchell, Associate Judge Superior Court of the District of Columbia. He then returned to Howard University serving as associate general counsel and directing the Moot Court Team at the School of Law.  His work in the education arena continued at his undergraduate alma mater Middlebury College as Special Assistant to the President. He presently serves as Executive Director of the Black Student Fund. During his more than thirty years in the education industry Leroy has worked as arbitrator, lawyer, professor, administrator, programmer and consultant. He is married to Dr. Debony Hughes and has two daughters.

 

TIFFANY MITCHELL PATTERSON, Ph.D. is a manager of social studies at the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). She was an assistant professor of secondary social studies at West Virginia University and taught a variety of education courses including diversity in education, social studies methods, African American Studies for Teachers at George Mason, American University and St. Michael's College respectively.  Tiffany earned her doctorate in multilingual / multicultural education and education policy from George Mason University. Her research interests include racial and social justice in education, education activism, critical civic education, teaching Black and underrepresented narratives in social studies education. She serves as a board member for Teaching for Change and is involved with teacher activist organizations such as D.C. Area Educators for Social Justice (DCAESJ) and the Zinn Education Project. 

TRICIA ELAM WALKER is an award-winning author, educator and recovered lawyer.  Her novel, Breathing Room, was published by Simon & Schuster/PocketBooks. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun, Essence and other publications.  She has provided commentary for NPR, CNN, the BBC and more.  Tricia’s short stories are included in the O.Henry Prize Stories, New Stories from the South and other anthologies and her essays are published in Father’s Songs, Dream Me Home Safely, It’s All About Love and more.  Several of her plays have been produced and her first children’s book, Nana Akua Goes to School, was published by Random House in June 2020.  It won a 2021 Children’s Africana Book Award and the 2021 Ezra Jack Keats writer award.  Her second picture book, Dream Street was published in November 2021, garnered five starred reviews and was a New York Times Best Children’s Book of 2021 selection. Tricia is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Howard University in Washington, DC.

LESA WARRICK is a distinguished-level District of Columbia Public School (DCPS) Specialized Instruction Resource Teacher.  She is one of the few DCPS National Board-Certified Teachers (NBCT) certified as an Exceptional Needs Specialist/Early Childhood through Young Adulthood. She has over 30 years of experience working with children and young adults.  She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Education and two Master of Arts degrees in Curriculum and Instruction from three top universities in the District of Columbia. Lesa has been nominated and recognized in Who’s Who Publishers publication and her writing has been published in Caribbean Connections and Kaleidoscope: Women of Color Reflecting on Life. She has attained several distinguished awards for her involvement and support with service learning and civic engagement projects.

 

VANESSA WILLIAMS is a student and practitioner of all things critical pedagogy, with a special appreciation for social studies and literature. She holds a B.A. in Anthropology with a minor in Education from Davidson College; she also has a  M.S. Ed in Education, Culture, and Society from the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. Vanessa taught secondary ELA and social studies for six years before becoming the program manager for D.C. Area Educators for Social Justice, a project of Teaching for Change. She serves on the D.C. History Conference planning committee and has been featured on panels for the Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium. Vanessa’s writing is published in Rethinking Schools and Education Post.

WYNN YARBROUGH, Ph.D.  teaches Composition, Children’s Literature, Technical Writing, British Literature and the Capital Capstone course in the Interdisciplinary General Education program at the University of the District of Columbia (UDC). His academic research interests include assessment and composition pedagogies and curriculum; anthropomorphic tales; gender; African-American children's poetry, and Edwardian literature. His book, Masculinity in Children’s Animal Stories, 1888-1928: A Critical Study of Anthropomorphic Tales by Wilde, Kipling, Potter, Grahame and Milne, was published by McFarland Press (2012).  With Alex Howe, Professor of English and Division Chair of Arts and Humanities at UDC, he co-edited Kidding Around: The Child in Film and Media, published by Bloomsbury Press in 2014.  He is currently on the Board of the Association of General and Liberal Studies (AGLS), and has been a regular member of the Children’s Literature Association for over 17 years.  His current book, African American Children’s Poetry: Representations and Themes, published by McFarland Press, will be released in Spring of 2024. 

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Lucille Clifton
Eloise Greenfield
May Miller Sullivan
Sterling A. Brown
Sharon Bell Mathis and workshop student circa 1980s
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Tony Gitten and Judy Richardson at Drum and Spear Bookstore circa 1970s
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After a Poetry Reading (Youths get Autographs)
Photo by Roy Lewis
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