We Need Diverse Books: African-American Author-Therapist Answers The Call

Sidney believes his book series can step in and fill a huge gap in literature. “I think it’s extremely important for children of color to have their truth reflected honestly in children’s books. Nelson Beats the Odds and Tameka’s New Dress features characters who overcome challenges such as learning disabilities, ADHD, trauma and bullying,” says Sidney.

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In less than twelve months, Ronnie Sidney, II, MSW has authored and self-published two children’s books. Sidney partnered with Imagine That! Design to help him illustrate Nelson Beats the Odds and Tameka’s New Dress. Nelson Beats the Odds, the author’s first book, is a semiautobiographical graphic novel about an African-American boy who struggles with the stigma of being placed in special education. The book is based on Sidney’s personal experience in special education.

In 3rd grade I was referred to special education. My parents were told that I was too hyper and needed to be placed on medication,” says Sidney. The stigmatization of special education created a lack of interest in school for the author. Nevertheless, Sidney graduated from Essex High School in 2001, but with a 1.8 GPA. Sidney went on to earn his Bachelor of Science degree in Human Services from Old Dominion University and his Master of Social Work degree from Virginia Commonwealth University.

“Nothing was given, everything was earned through hard work,” explains Sidney, “After earning my MSW I wrote Nelson Beats the Odds to inspire exceptional educational students because I remember how hard it was carrying around stigma.”

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Nelson Beats The Odds is currently #1 on the Amazon Best Seller Paid in Kindle Store list for books about learning disabilities. This past May, Sidney was featured on Fox and Friends Weekend and NBC 12 News. Sidney has been sharing his message across the state of Virginia, speaking at events hosted by the Virginia Department of Education, Virginia Federation of the Council for Exceptional Children, National Foster Parent Association,  Richmond Public Library and National Association for Black Social Workers.

Sidney’s second book, Tameka’s New Dress, features a familiar character from his previous book. Tameka is one of Nelson’s best friends, however, unlike Nelson, she is a well-behaved straight A student. Tameka’s poor grades and behavior at her old school alerted her principal that something was going on at home. Child protective services intervenes after Tameka discloses that she was abused and neglected by her parents. Tameka is removed from her parents’ home and placed with her grandmother.

Here is what Sidney has to say about Tameka’s New Dress:

For me, it was important to tell the story of Tameka’s dress. It’s her cloak, an impenetrable force field that shields her from negativity. The dress gives Tameka the ability to love unconditionally without the fear of being hurt. Tameka’s New Dress celebrates the diversity of Black females and visually empowers Black girls.

The book teaches young people alternative ways to deal with conflict. Tameka uses writing as a way to cope with adverse childhood experiences. Through her new dress, Tameka learns how to deal with conflict assertively instead of aggressively. In the book Sidney also confronts colorism.

“In Nelson Beats the Odds, I introduce readers to the concept of ‘acting white’ because it adversely effects Black students academic achievement”, says Sidney, “In Tameka’s New Dress I introduce readers to the concept of colorism because it adversely effects Black student’s self-esteem”. In Tameka’s New Dress, Mesha the school bully, teases and taunts Tameka because of her skin complexion.

Sidney believes his book series can step in and fill a huge gap in literature. “I think it’s extremely important for children of color to have their truth reflected honestly in children’s books. Nelson Beats the Odds and Tameka’s New Dress features characters who overcome challenges such as learning disabilities, ADHD, trauma and bullying,” says Sidney.

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Ellen Oh and Ronnie Sidney, II, MSW
There is a growing movement in America and abroad to promote diverse literature. We Need Diverse Books™ launched an international campaign to address this issue.  The grassroots organization’s mission is to put more books featuring diverse characters into the hands of all children. By advocating for essential changes in the publishing industry, the group hopes more books will be produced and promoted that “reflects and honors the lives of all young people.”

Since 1985 the Cooperative Children’s Book Center documented the numbers of books they received that were written and/or illustrated by African Americans. In 2015 they received 3,400 books, only 106 were written and/or illustrated by African-Americans while 269 were written about them.

Outside of writing and publishing books, Sidney released 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 social media campaign that gives individuals a platform to share stories about how they beat the odds.  The campaign also awarded scholarships to four high school seniors. For inquiries email us at ronnie@creative-medicine.com or visit http://www.creative-medicine.com.

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.

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