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A 2012 United States Census Bureau survey found that 10 percent of all children in the United States lived with a grandparent. Of children living with their grandparent, aged 18 years and younger, an estimated 2.7 million grandparents were the primary caregivers for the children (Ellis & Simmons, 2014). Compared to other ethnic groups, African-American children are more often raised primarily by a grandparent. These children are also almost twice as likely to live below the poverty line compared to children whose grandparents are not primary caregivers (Livingston, 2013). Families headed by grandparents who share their homes with their grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and/or other related children are commonly referred to as “grandfamilies”. In Tameka’s New Dress, Tameka and her two younger brothers move in with their grandmother after their mother is sent to a drug rehabilitation facility and their stepfather is sent to jail.
Tameka’s New Dress features the author’s sister, Cherlanda Sidney-Ross, who’s a social worker and Family Services Supervisor for the King William Department of Social Services. Mrs. Ross is contacted by Tameka’s guidance counselor and asked to investigate allegations of abuse and neglect. The social worker rescues Tameka and her brothers from their chaotic home environment and places them in the care of their grandmother. She encourages Tameka to tell her story through writing.
“My sister has always been a role model of mine. I credit her with inspiring me to enroll in Virginia Commonwealth University’s MSW program and pursue my degree in Social Work,” said Sidney. He wanted to honor his sister and the thousands of other child welfare workers advocating for children everyday.
It actually probably saved my life. It is the reason why I am where I am today because my grandmother gave me the foundation for success that I was allowed to continue to build upon. My grandmother taught me to read, and that opened the door to all kinds of possibilities for me.
Sidney, an Outpatient Therapist at the Middle Peninsula Northern Neck Community Services Board, believes grandfamilies are on the rise. “I’m seeing more and more grandparents raising their grandchildren,” says Sidney, “When grandfamilies read Tameka’s New Dress they will find characters and experiences they can relate to.”
“Mr. Sidney brings up the subjects of domestic abuse, drug use, relocation and bullying with a gentle touch suitable for even the youngest children. Tameka’s New Dress shines a light on these tough things and lays them out on the table to talk about,” says Essex Public Library Director Bess Haile.
I got teased my entire school life. What they were picking on I don’t even understand. It was my skin color [which was lighter than her classmates’]. Then when I got older, it was about my breasts. But I’m not victimized—I’m grateful. I think those experiences were strategically put together by God for the preparation of being in the music industry.
Throughout the book Tameka faces a variety of challenges- her most difficult challenge is standing up the school bully Mesha. The conflict between Tameka and Mesha introduces readers to the troubling concept of colorism. “Tameka’s New Dress resonated with me and I know it will for many others. Like Tameka, I have been persecuted for being a fair-complexioned, Black girl with ‘good hair’,” noted Rebecca Knight, “These stereotypes are but other means of dividing Black women.”
Tameka is a strong girl with a grandmother who loves and supports her. She uses creative ways to overcome past traumas and new ways to confront bullies without becoming a bully herself. A completely unexpected ending sets the stage for further adventures between Tameka and Mesha.
Tameka’s New Dress, the second installment of the Nelson Beats the Odds series is being released today. The graphic novel is illustrated by Imagine That! Design and published by Creative Medicine: Healing Through Words, LLC. Please visit our website for more information about Tameka’s New Dress. For inquires please contact Ronnie Sidney, II, MSW at firstname.lastname@example.org.