After being diagnosed as learning disabled and spending five years in special education, the last thing Ronnie Sidney, II, MSW thought he would become was an author. “When I graduated high school my goal was to become the next Puff Daddy. I wanted to own a record label, throw lavish parties and live the high life,” said Sidney. That all changed when Sidney switched his major from Business Management to Human Services at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. “Helping people came easy,” Sidney explained, “My father is a minister, my sister is a social worker and my mother is a nurse. I guess it runs in the family.”
Sidney, an author, therapist and entrepreneur, hails from Tapphannock, VA, otherwise known as the home of Chris Brown. On August 21, 2015, Sidney self-published Amazon best-seller Nelson Beats the Odds, a semiautobiographical comic book about a young man who struggles with the stigma of being placed in special education. Since releasing Nelson Beats the Odds, Sidney has been featured on MicheLA, Fox and Friends Weekend and NBC 12 News. Last week he released Nelson Beats the Odds: Compendium One, which includes his second graphic novel Tameka’s New Dress. The compendium gives readers a chance to experience Nelson Beats the Odds and Tameka’s New Dress in one thrilling graphic novel.
While attending Essex County Public Schools (ECPS), Sidney struggled academically and behaviorally. He spent five years in special education after being diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and a Specific Learning Disability (SLD). The stigmatization of special education created a lack of interest in school. In eighth grade Sidney was told by his Pre-Algebra teacher that he wasn’t going to college. “That was a pivotal moment in my life. I made up in my mind that I was going to prove him and everyone who doubted me wrong,” says Sidney.
Nevertheless, Sidney graduated from Essex High School in 2001, but with a 1.8 GPA. With limited options regarding four-year colleges, he decided to enroll in J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Richmond, Virginia. The following year, he transferred to Old Dominion University, where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in Human Services in 2006.
In 2011, Sidney enrolled in Virginia Commonwealth University’s (VCU) School of Social Work program to learn how to better serve at-risk youth. At VCU he earned a 3.5 GPA and was inducted into the Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities & Colleges. One year after earning his Master of Social Work degree, Sidney self-published Nelson Beats The Odds. The book became a platform for Sidney to share his childhood experiences and bring attention to the plight of students with disabilities.
Sidney, whose middle name is Nelson, hopes his books will inspire young people to overcome their challenges. “I want Nelson Beats the Odds to resonate with young people, particularly African-American males and students with learning disabilities,” Sidney explains, “I want the book to speak directly to their experience. I was in special education for seven years and I know exactly how it feels to be a struggling learner.”
Studies have shown that students with learning disabilities face difficult odds and experience poorer academic outcomes than students without learning disabilities. A 2011 study by the IDEA Data Center found that African-American students in Virginia made up 23.8% of the student population but represented 31.6% of students diagnosed with a specific learning disability. According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, Black and Hispanic students with disabilities face much higher rates of school disciplinary actions, drop-out rates and experience lower rates of graduation.
In the United States, approximately 10 percent of all children live with a grandparent. Roughly 2.7 million grandparents had primary responsibility for grandchildren under the age of 18 who lived with them (Ellis & Simmons, 2014).
“I’m seeing more and more families where the grandparents are the primary caregivers due to parental substance abuse, incarceration and mental illness. The grandparents faced a number of challenges such as poor health, poverty and a lack of access to critical resources,” explains Sidney. His experience working with families headed by grandparents encouraged him to author and self-publish Tameka’s New Dress. “When young people read Tameka’s New Dress they will find characters and experiences they can relate to,” says Sidney.
The success of Nelson Beats The Odds can be measured by its previous #1 rankings on the Amazon Best Seller list. When asked what it felt like to be a best-seller Sidney added, “It feels great! To come from a small town like Tappahannock, Virginia and inspire kids from all over the world with my book is humbling. My goal from the start was to encourage struggling students to beat the odds and that’s exactly what I’m doing.” Sidney credits much of his book’s success to his illustrators Imagine That! Design.
After releasing Nelson Beats the Odds, Sidney was inspired to develop the Nelson Beats The Odds Comic Creator app for iOS mobile devices. The companion app allows users to customize photos and share them with friends on social media. Sidney also started #iBeatTheOdds, a popular Facebook social media campaign that gives individuals a platform to share stories about how they beat the odds. For inquires, please contact us at email@example.com. For more information about our services, please visit www.creative-medicine.com.