Former Special Education Student Publishes Award-Winning Graphic Novel

“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.”

Purchase Nelson Beats The Odds by clicking here; Tameka’s New Dress by clicking here; Rest in Peace RaShawn by clicking here; and Nelson Beats The Odds: Compendium One by clicking here

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.

The fatal police shootings of black men in the recent past bring to focus yet again the chain of stigma, shame and silence that engulfs many lives, and entire communities and neighborhoods. Rest in Peace RaShawn Reloaded tells the graphic story of a black teenager shot and killed by a police officer who mistakes his airsoft toy gun for real. This narrative is all too common in America, and the novel brings home the fact that a young, innocent life was snuffed out too soon.

Rest in Peace RaShawn Reloaded was nominated for the Richmond Public Library’s 2018 YAVA Award for excellence in writing for readers at the middle and high school level by a Virginia author. 

Rest in Peace RaShawn Reloaded was selected for the Recommended Book List for the 2018 In The Margins Book Award. The books selected by committee best fiction and non-fiction titles (Pre-K through adult) of high-interest appeal to youth ages 9-21 living in poverty, on the streets, or in custody, with a preference for marginalized books.


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 @ For more information please visit the author’s website at

Author: Ronnie Sidney II, MSW

Ronnie Sidney, II, MSW, is a father, therapist, author, app developer, professional speaker, philanthropist and entrepreneur. He received a Master of Social Work from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2014. Ronnie was raised in Tappahannock, Virginia, and attended Essex County Public Schools (ECPS). While attending ECPS, he spent several years in Special Education after being diagnosed with a learning disability. The stigmatization of special education created a lack of interest in school. 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. Sidney has since published two books, "Nelson Beats the Odds" and "Tameka's New Dress". He also developed the Nelson Beats the Odds Comic Creator.

38 thoughts on “Former Special Education Student Publishes Award-Winning Graphic Novel”

  1. I would love to have my students hear his story!!!! I am a Behavior Management Coordinator at a private day school in Newport News. This story is what we are looking for to enhance our program.


  2. This is amazing! Thank you! I would love to hear your thoughts on what we need to do in changing the way we school children, all children, but especially those marginalized early. It doesn’t seem like it should be so difficult to figure out what is an appropriate learning environment. Thanks for the great voice towards change! I love hearing your story!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Love and needed to see this. I have a grandson dealing with this currently and having a difficult time. It is hard for him to focus if he is not interested in what’s being taught, but if he likes the topic he shines. He loves to debate if it’s a topic he’s into and can make you switch sides. He does not want to take meds but needs them to focus. Any suggestions? I will be sharing your story and getting your book for him.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hello Ronnie,

    This is an awesome message. I am a disability professional at Texas Southern University in Houston, Tx. Will you be in Houston any time in September or October? We would love to have you come speak to our students during Disability Awareness Day, and perhaps host a book signing.
    If you are interested, please contact me at
    I hope to hear from you.

    – Kaya A.J. Pickens, M.Ed

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m so proud that there is a success story behind ADHD I have three grandsons who has ADHD but the teacher’s here don’t have the knowledge on how to teach a child with ADHD i’m so glad to see that there is hope for my grandsons that someone has went through what their going through right now

    Liked by 1 person

  6. It is so awesome to see this accomplished. Congrats. I work at an inner city high school and some of the things I see are some parents abusing the system. Such as, If your child is considered SPED, your eligible for Disability payments. Some parents just milk this. I have worked in my school system in different jobs for 22 years. From the cafeteria worker to Cafeteria manager, to Physical Education assistant, to Assisting O.T’s and P.T.’s in Special education with students with all types of disabilities. And now in my final years before retirement I work in the Discipline office of my local high school. Both of my children also graduated from this high school also.


  7. You’re life has truly given me the hope to know and understand just because you may be at a disadvantage and stigmatized at some point does not determine your future. My 11 year old was recently diagnosed with ADHD and LD. Her struggles are my struggles and sometimes it hard to see that one day she will overcome the pain and agony of her disabilities. Some times I feel she is pushed along because her disabilities. And the sad part is the teachers she have that are special education teachers are not as prepared to deal with issues on an individualized basis. It would be great to be able to attend one of your seminars and to even have my daughtert to be able to here you speak as well. Her biggest upset is that she doesn’t understand why certain things that her classmates get so easily and she can’t. Concerned, Parent

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I worked with students that had been placed in a special setting because of their lack of social skills, their behavior and of course their lack of being able to grasp knowledge as well as their peers. I am certainly agree that teachers and parents need to unite so that these precious minds will have a chance to succeed in life. I honor you for the struggle that brought you to this point in your life in order to encourage others. Thank you from all of the students who are traveling through the same misunderstood trials as you have done.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Congratulations on your continued success. I also have a son with a disability who is doing great things and not being defined by his limitations. I would love for him to be able to contact you for moral support. Thank you.


  10. Thanks for sharing your experience. Many years ago, Marva Collins shared her magnificent techniques she used to “remove the uneducable” label from her students. I will start giving your books as an inspiration to others.
    Again, thank you for sharing.


  11. When I was a second-year teacher of 3rd-graders, one of my boys had tremendous intelligence and equally tremendous learning difficulties with reading, handwriting, and composition. The good news is that we both had excellent teaching from more experienced people. Imagine my pride 15 years later when his mom, the dean of my graduate department, told me he earned his masters and became a writer! Congratulations on your success! I recently retired from education and your story is inspiring me to seek my place again in helping others. May we all continue to learn from our students.


  12. Wonderful story! I teach at juvenile development center where there the students in Sped are not on several grade levels behind but also have that criminal mindset because no one ever believed in them. This book will surely be added to my collection so they are able to see another form of success besides an athlete or someone in the music industry.


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