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Simone Biles earned four gold medals and one bronze medal during the 2016 Olympic games in Rio De Janeiro. Team USA selected the 19-year old American gymnast to be their flag bearer for the closing ceremony. With Simone’s rise to stardom came undue criticism about her traumatic past. Sports commentator Al Trautwig publically shamed Simone by saying her grandparents Ron and Nellie Biles “may be mom and dad but they are NOT her parents”. Simone responded to US Weekly exclusively by simply saying, “My parents are my parents and that’s it.”
Simone’s mother, Shannon Biles, suffered from an alcohol and drug addiction. Shannon lost custody of Simone and her younger sister Adria due to her inability to raise them. Social services intervened and the girls were placed in foster care. Ron and Nellie Biles, Simone’s grandparents, adopted Simone and her sister on Christmas Eve in 2002.
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. Compared to other ethnic groups, African-American children are more often raised primarily by a grandparent. According to a Pew Research Center report, African-American children are twice as likely to live below the poverty line compared to children whose grandparents are not primary caregivers.
Author-Therapist Ronnie Sidney, II, MSW believes grandparents raising their grandchildren is on the rise. “I’m seeing more and more families where the grandparents are the primary caregivers. Grandparents of color face a number of challenges such as poor health, poverty and a lack of access to critical resources,” says Ronnie. Ronnie’s 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,” explains Ronnie.
Tameka, a gifted Kemet Middle School student, is accused of pushing another student. When the principal mentions to Tameka that she may be suspended, Tameka starts to panic. Tameka’s fear stems from the abuse and neglect she experiences at home. Like Simone, Tameka’s mother suffers from alcohol and drug addiction. Also like Simone, Tameka is removed from her home by social services and placed with her grandparents.
After coming home from school crying, Tameka’s grandmother sews her a new African wax-cloth dress. The dress gives Tameka a new-found confidence. The author was inspired to tell the story behind Tameka’s beautiful dress by his daughters. “My daughter Mali feels like a queen every time she puts on a new dress,” explains Ronnie, “It transforms her, all she wants to do is smile and twirl around in circles.”
Tameka’s New Dress features the author’s sister, Cherlanda Sidney-Ross, who’s a social worker and Family Services Supervisor. Mrs. Ross is contacted by Tameka’s guidance counselor and asked to investigate allegations of abuse and neglect. The social worker removes Tameka and her brothers from their chaotic home environment and places them in the care of their grandmother.
“My sister has always been a role model of mine. I credit her with inspiring me to enroll in Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Social Work and pursue my Master of Social Work degree,” said Ronnie. He wanted to honor his sister and the thousands of other child welfare workers advocating for children every day.
“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.”
Oprah Winfrey, American Media Proprietor, Grandfamily
Both Tameka and Simone are strong young women with grandparents who love and support them. Their stories celebrate resilience and creatively empower Black girls to beat the odds. Most importantly, both Simone and Tameka illustrate the pivotal role grandparents play in the African-American community.
Tameka’s New Dress, the second installment of the Nelson Beats the Odds series is currently available for sale. 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.