After being diagnosed as learning disabled and spending seven 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. Sidney’s story also recently appeared on NPR. In September Sidney 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.
After graduating with his Bachelor of Science in Human Services, Sidney took a job at the Middle Peninsula-Northern Neck Community Services Board. “It was my first, real job. I didn’t know much about being a therapist but I knew I was passionate about working with troubled teenagers,” explains Sidney. In school Sidney struggled academically and behaviorally. He spent seven years in special education after being diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Dysgraphia. Sidney enrolled in Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Social Work program in 2011 to learn how to better serve at-risk youth. In 2015, Sidney self-published Nelson Beats The Odds , a graphic novel about a young man who struggles with the stigma of being placed in special education. The book became a platform for Sidney to share his childhood experiences and bring attention to the plight of students with disabilities.
“I want Nelson Beats The Odds to resonate with young people, particularly African American males and students with learning disabilities,” Sidney said, “I was in special education and I know exactly how it feels to struggle in school.”
According to researchers, poor training and racial bias have contributed to children of color being assigned to “slow-moving special-education classes.” Virginia Commonwealth University researcher Donald Oswald and others found that special education only contributed to unequal opportunities for minority students who are already inadequately served, misclassified and segregated. Studies have shown that students with learning disabilities face lower teacher expectations; carry around stigmatizing labels; develop lower self-esteem; and experience poorer academic outcomes than students without learning disabilities.
Virginia’s largest children law program, JustChildren Program, published a report on May 1, 2016 entitled “Suspended Progress”. The report found that Virginia schools disproportionately suspend African-American students and students with disabilities. African-American students make up roughly 23 percent of the student population, but were subjected to 60 percent of long-term suspensions, 58 percent of short-term suspensions, and 55 percent of expulsions. Students with disabilities represent 12.3% of the student population in Virginia, but received 22% percent of long-term suspensions, 27.6 percent of short-term suspensions, and 21% of expulsions.
“The support on social media has been incredible. Rapper Waka Flocka Flame expressed interest in my book and retweeted a tweet I made on Twitter. Members of Black Educators Rock, an online Facebook group, have been very supportive of my project,” says Sidney. The group helped Sidney amass over 260 free promotional downloads in April. Sidney receives five free Kindle eBook promotions per quarter though Kindle Direct Publishing. “I’m a full time father and therapist so I rely heavily on Amazon to handle a bulk of my orders. Amazon really makes it easy for self-publishers to increase sales and visibility,” explained 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. If you’re interested in booking information or discounted book prices email Ronnie @ firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information please visit the author’s website at www.creative-medicine.com.
Photo Credit for featured image, Dominique Murchison.