Summer 2020. My mother and I let out a simultaneous heavy sigh. We had just been talking about the killing of George Floyd and other black people at the hands of police, and the resulting unrest. The very fact that these heinous deaths were occurring in our society on a regular basis, and our sense of vulnerability as Black women, knowing that any one of us could be subjected to the same brutality was enough in and of itself to weigh our spirits down. But in addition to this, we noted that being subjected to the daily barrage of images of black people being victimized or killed in real time was also almost equally traumatic. Both my mom and I had made the choice not to view the videos of the recent killings. However, this choice was rendered virtually meaningless as news networks broadcast the videos, often without warning, multiple times a day and even within a single story.
“These videos are like those photos they used to take and pass around as souvenirs of a lynching,” my mom remarked, clicking off the television another airing of George Floyd’s murder was casually shown as part of an afternoon news broadcast. I agreed. To be sure, images of brutality against black people have brought home in very visceral and personal ways the urgency and seriousness of the issue of systemic racism, which has led increased awareness, as well as the formation of and participation in the many social movements, like Black Lives Matters, that have changed our world.
But at what cost? To me, the constant streaming of images of violence against black people has the potential to chip away at the humanity of black bodies, and at the respect for our spirits. As a children’s book author, I think a lot about how Black kids may be relating to these images, and how what’s occurring in our society impacts their sense of self. If we choose to prioritize stories of black trauma, are we creating a codified narrative of the black experience, that our children are then forced to consume and encouraged to adopt as their own? Are we limiting the power of kids to dream and imagine beyond their immediate circumstances, to tell their own stories?
These questions and the backdrop of violence and unrest is what inspired me to write my recent picture book, The Me I Choose to Be. The opening lines of the book are:
Some may think they know who I am,
But here’s what you must understand.
My creativity and curiosity
flow without end,
and if I meet an obstacle,
I just begin again.
I am a planet,
A limitless galaxy,
And I am the me I choose to be.
With joyful rhyming text, and stunning photographs by Kahran and Regis Bethancourt, The Me I Choose to Be literally invites kids into a world of possibility, of imagination, of discovery. My hope for this book was to create a space, away from the noise and issues of the world, to rejoice in the diversity and beauty of Black kids and affirm their power to choose who and what they want to be.
Growing up as a shy, but adventurous and imaginative kid, I always had the sense that life was full of possibilities, and I wanted to discover and experience as many of these possibilities as I could. Books became portals that allowed me to learn about and explore people, places and realms beyond my immediate reality. As an author, I have devoted my career to creating books that inspire children, especially Black kids, to explore their own imagination and creativity; to tell their own stories. While they may not be able to control the events of the world around them, I hope that The Me I Choose To Be in particular will encourage kids to recognize and actualize the power that they possess within to choose “the me” they want to be.
I also hope that children’s book authors and other content creators will use their talents to change the broader landscape of images that our children are exposed to in the media that they consume. Let’s incorporate on a more consistent basis stories that reflect a wide range of black experiences, joy, and even the mundane everyday work of building a life, a family, a career–instead of centering the dialogue simply on violence and racism (or even anti-racism). Prioritizing these images and stories will inspire us all to recognize and celebrate the value of black lives.
What will you choose to be?
A free spirit?
A weaver of words?
A star dancing across the night sky?
A limitless galaxy?
The possibilities are endless in this uplifting ode to the power of potential. With lyrical text by bestselling author Natasha Anastasia Tarpley and images by Regis and Kahran Bethencourt—the team behind CreativeSoul Photography—each page of The Me I Choose To Be is an immersive call for self-love that highlights the inherent beauty of all Black and brown children.