Virginia teens help publish graphic novel about police-involved shooting

“Rest in Peace RaShawn” is more than the story of an accidental shooting. It’s the vivid story of a young man’s life snuffed out too soon by police bullets – a narrative that, sadly, has become all too familiar in America.

Rest in Peace RaShawn is more than the story of an accidental shooting. It’s the vivid story of a young man’s life snuffed out too soon by police bullets – a narrative that, sadly, has become all too familiar in America.

Ronnie Sidney, II, MSW, works as a therapist for court-involved youth in Warsaw, Virginia. Rest in Peace RaShawn completes a quaternity of quality young adult literature by Sidney, including the first books in his series Nelson Beats The OddsTameka’s New Dress, and Nelson Beats the Odds: Compendium One. All four inspire confidence in children, especially children of color, and encourage a fondness for reading and a heightened level of social awareness; Sidney’s stories equip kids with a broader understanding of America’s current culture and climate.

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Sidney partnered with children’s book illustrator Traci Van Wagoner  for their fourth book together. Rest in Peace RaShawn is a bleak story aimed at teenage readers. “I really wanted Traci to illustrate the grief, the anger and the rage that people of color are feeling,” Sidney says. And, he adds, “I really think that this book can keep that conversation going.”

Rest in Peace RaShawn tells the story of a star football player, the golden child of his family, who dies in a police-involved shooting. His younger brother, Jeremy, finds an outlet for his anger in joining a local gang.

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“I was inspired to write Rest in Peace RaShawn in the aftermath of Tamir Rice’s death,” says Sidney. He adds, “I love children, so to see one gunned down like that made me sick to my stomach.”

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Sidney is well aware of the racial disparities that exist in the criminal justice system. In 2013, Sidney presented “Liberty and Justice for All? Examining the Untold Trayvon Martin Stories” at Virginia Commonwealth University. The presentation examined the lives of nearly a dozen unarmed African-American and Hispanic teenagers who were killed by vigilantes or police officers.

Rest in Peace RaShawn captures the emotional upheaval suffered by families and communities nationwide following the sudden, violent demise of black teens. Sidney presents the violence and suffering in a sensitive, easy-to-understand and age-appropriate format for kids. This book is a good way to broach the painful but necessary conversations families across the nation are having with their children.

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Sidney’s latest book provides thoughtful discussion points on how to heal the legacy of distrust between African- American communities and the police. Over the summer Sidney met with a diverse group of young men at a Virginia academy and asked them to answer the following questions: What solutions do you think will bridge the divide between communities of color and the criminal justice system? What are your opinions on the recent officer-involved shootings? What is it like to be Black or Hispanic today? The answers to those questions are littered throughout Rest in Peace RaShawn and give a real voice to a fictional story.

“It was really important for me to give young people a platform to process what they’ve been experiencing and seeing on the news,” says Sidney. Last year the Tappahannock native offered a workshop to a group of teenagers in Portsmouth, Virginia. The city was grieving the death of William L. Chapman II, an 18-year-old man, who was shot and killed in a Walmart parking lot by Officer Stephen D. Rankin. During the workshop, 16-year-old Lawrence Jones penned an essay that Sidney included in Rest in Peace Rashawn. Below is a snippet from Lawrence’s essay:

“It’s a cold world. Where are the love and peace? It seems like life is on repeat. Dude had a toy gun and they still shot him. It seems like what Dr. King fought for doesn’t even matter, they still want to see our blood splattered. It seems like if we talk, we get a bullet. It makes me think about what to do in life. Do I need to carry a gun?”

Junior editors Dion Allen, Jamal Ball, Christian Brown, Diojé Ellis, Tiojé Ellis, Ricardo Henson, Terrell Hundley, Tamaje Jones, and Isaiah Taylor helped Sidney tell a story that young people would relate to. Sidney partnered with Essex High School principal Patrick Doyle to assemble the group. “Being able to work with students who attend the same school I did as a teenager made it a very special experience,” says Sidney.

“My hope is for readers to have courageous conversations around trauma, gun violence and the racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system,” says Sidney. He adds, “People of all races standing together and providing substantive interventions is the only way we can prevent the untimely deaths of Black and Hispanic teens”.

Rest in Peace RaShawn is currently available on Amazon, Createspace and Kindle.

About the Author: Ronnie Sidney, II, MSW is an author (Nelson Beats The OddsTameka’s New Dress, Rest in Peace RaShawn, and Nelson Beats the Odds: Compendium One), publisher, therapist, app developer , philanthropist and literary activist. Sidney also created a free mobile app, the “Nelson Beats The Odds Comic Creator” that allows users to add their face to the illustrations, create photo collages with accessories like a cap and gown, and share their own stories. For inquiries email us at ronnie@creative-medicine.com or visit http://www.creative-medicine.com.

Daughters Love for Dresses Inspires Author-Therapist’s New Book

Tameka’s New Dress is a visual tale of loss, hope, and female empowerment. Tameka’s dress is her cloak, an impenetrable force field that shields her from past trauma and bullying.

Click here to order a copy of Tameka’s New Dress. Add the Tameka’s New Dress filter to your photos by downloading the Nelson Beats the Odds Comic Creator app from the App Store.

Best-selling author Ronnie Sidney, II, MSW was inspired to tell the story behind Tameka’s beautiful dress by his two daughters. “Morgan and Mali transform into queens every time they put on a new dress,” explains Sidney, “All they want to do is twirl around in circles and smile.”

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Tameka’s New Dress is a visual tale of loss, hope, and female empowerment. Tameka’s dress is her cloak, an impenetrable force field that shields her from past trauma and bullying. The dress gives Tameka the ability to love unconditionally without the fear of being hurt. This blog will explore three major themes from Tameka’s New Dress, colorism, bullying and grandfamilies.

Tameka, a gifted Kemet Middle School student, is accused of pushing another student in the hallway. When Mrs. Lopez, Tameka’s 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.

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One of Traci Van Wagoner most aesthetically pleasing illustrations show Tameka holding the fabric for her new dress, visualizing herself as warrior queens Nefertiti, Nzinga and Nandi. Tameka’s grandmother uses the African wax cloth to sew her a new dress after she comes home from school crying. Tameka’s grandmother, a true alchemist, turns lemons into lemonade by sewing Tameka a new dress.

Throughout Tameka’s New Dress you will find references to Queen Nefertiti. Queen Nefertiti is the wife of the of one of the most famous pharaohs of acient Kemet, Akhenaten. The two began a religious revolution in Kemet, or Ancient Egypt, that influenced contemporary religions like Christianity and Judaism. After Nefertiti’s husband died, scholars believe she ruled Kemet as Neferneferuaten.

On the very next page is an illustration symbolizing the rising of a phoenix. In Kemet, or Ancient Egypt, the phoenix originated as the Bennu. Greek historian, Herodotus, said the Bennu came from Arabia every 500 years. Before the phoenix dies, it builds a nest of cinnamon twigs, lays down it and dies. A new phoenix rises out of the ashes, able to regenerate when injured by a foe. Tameka embraces her African roots and her transformation into a phoenix symbolizes her overcoming past trauma.

Sidney warns parents not to leave it up to the school system to teach their children about history. “I grew up thinking the Egyptians were white,” says the best-selling author, “When I learned the truth, I vowed to teach it to my children.”

Grandfamilies

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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. 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.

Sidney asked one of his college friends, Tanisha Carter, to write a poem about her experience growing up in a grandfamily. Her poem “The Golden Matriarch” is featured in the Tameka’s New Dress graphic novel and on the mixtape. Below is an excerpt from Tanisha’s poem:

And she even gave me knowledge I never knew

She exposed me to the disheartening facts of being black

Because of our history that she lived this wasn’t fiction she was talking, this was fact

And today I am grateful for all of that.

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 Sidney. His 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 Sidney.

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Cherlanda Sidney-Ross

Tameka’s New Dress features the author’s sister, Cherlanda Sidney-Ross, a former 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 Sidney. He wanted to honor his sister and the thousands of other child welfare workers advocating for children every day.

Colorism

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Sidney hopes Tameka’s New Dress will help lift the ugly curse of colorism.” I want girls of color to know that it’s our shared history that unites us, not our complexion,” says best-selling author. Tameka’s New Dress pays homage to Beyonce by including a line from “Sorry”. Mesha, the book’s antagonist, bullies Tameka because she is a new student and is light-skinned. After class, Mesha approaches Tameka and says, “You must be the new girl! Hey, light bright! You must think you’re cute like Becky with the good hair!”

Tameka’s New Dress features a quote from Barbadian recording artist Rihanna, who spoke candidly about being picked on because of her complexion in Glamour Magazine. Sidney grew up not far from the Johnville plantation, a place where his great grandparents were enslaved. “Light-skinned vs. dark-skinned was alive and well when I went through school,” says the best-selling author, “I wanted to explore the concept in Tameka’s New Dress because it continues to impact young people’s self-esteem.”

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Rebecca Knight

Rebecca Knight, one of Sidney’s former classmates, submitted the book’s foreword. Her experience with colorism made the political personal. In the foreward she writes:

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”…despite the many successes of African-Americans, society equates being Black with being inferior. It’s sad. As a Black, educated, articulate, professional and driven female, I cannot and will not subscribe to these stereotypes. I believe in and pledge my life to Black excellence.

Bullying

“When I heard about what happened to Amy Francis-Joyner  on the news, I thought it was eerily similar to Tameka’s story,” says Sidney, “I decided to dedicate my book to Amy’s memory because she did not deserve what happened to her.”

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Amy Francis-Joyner

What happened on April 21, 2016 was a tragedy; Amy Francis-Joyner lost her young life and Trinity Carr’s life will forever be altered. On Tameka’s first day at her new school she is harassed by three bullies. Initially, Tameka runs home crying after being tormented by her bullies. The book’s ending teaches young people how to mange conflicts verbally. “Violence should always be the last alternative, not the first,” says the best-selling author.

At the end of Tameka’s New Dress, Tameka opens up her heart to forgiveness. Without forgiveness, Tameka would not have been able to reclaim her beauty and heal from the abuse and neglect she experienced throughout her life. “Hurt people hurt people,” says Sidney, “Bullies are oftentimes being victimized themselves.”

Tameka’s story celebrates diversity and visually empowers readers. Tameka’s New Dress’s author hopes his graphic novel will give girls of color new-found confidence. “My hope is that Tameka’s New Dress will inspire girls to find beauty inside themselves and others,” says Sidney.

About the author: Ronnie Sidney, II, MSW is a therapist, author and business owner. He is the author of Nelson Beats The Odds, Tameka’s New Dress, and Nelson Beats the Odds: Compendium One. With the help of Protenza Global Solutions, Sidney developed the Nelson Beats The Odds Comic Creator app . For inquiries, email him at ronnie@creative-medicine.com. Please visit his website at www.creative-medicine.com for more information.

From Special Ed to Best-Selling Author, Hear how Nelson Beat the Odds

Sidney self-published Amazon best-seller Nelson Beats the Odds, a comic book about a young man who struggles with the stigma of being placed in special education. Since releasing his book, Sidney has been featured on MicheLA, Fox and Friends Weekend and NBC 12 News.

Click here to order a copy of Nelson Beats the Odds, Tameka’s New Dress or Nelson Beats the Odds: Compendium One.


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. 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 MicheLAFox and Friends Weekend and NBC 12 News. Last week he 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.

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While attending Essex County Public Schools (ECPS), Sidney struggled academically and behaviorally. He spent seven years in special education after being diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Dysgraphia. The stigmatization of special education created a lack of interest in school. In eighth grade Sidney was told by his Pre-Algebra teacher that he wasn’t going to college. “That was a pivotal moment in my life. I made up in my mind that I was going to prove him and everyone who doubted me wrong,” says Sidney.

Nevertheless, Sidney graduated from Essex High School in 2001, but with a 1.8 GPA. 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.

In 2011, Sidney enrolled in Virginia Commonwealth University’s (VCU) School of Social Work program to learn how to better serve at-risk youth. At VCU he earned a 3.5 GPA and was inducted into the Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities & Colleges. One year after earning his Master of Social Work degree,  Sidney self-published  Nelson Beats The Odds. The book became a platform for Sidney to share his childhood experiences and bring attention to the plight of students with disabilities.

Sidney credits his parents and former teachers for helping him beat the odds. “My mom always told me I was smart and Mrs. Tobey, my former special education teacher, always made me feel like I was smart. With their support, I knew I could be whatever I wanted to be”, says Sidney. The best-selling author has some advice for parents and teachers, “The next time you look into the eyes of a special education student, I want you to see a future best-selling author, social worker, app developer, professional speaker and entrepreneur.”
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2016 MOVE Conference

Sidney, whose middle name is Nelson, hopes his books will inspire young people to overcome their challenges. “I want Nelson Beats the Odds to resonate with young people, particularly African-American males and students with learning disabilities. I was in special education for seven years and I know exactly how it feels to be a struggling learner,” explains Sidney.

Studies have shown that students with learning disabilities face difficult odds and experience poorer academic outcomes than students without learning disabilities. A 2011 study by the IDEA Data Center found that African-American students in Virginia made up 23.8% of the student population but represented 31.6% of students diagnosed with a specific learning disability. According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, Black and Hispanic students with disabilities face much higher rates of school disciplinary actions, drop-out rates and experience lower rates of graduation.

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 alerts her principal that something was going on at home. Mrs. Ross, a character based on the author’s biological sister, is contacted by Tameka’s guidance counselor and investigates the abuse and neglect allegations. Tameka and her brothers were removed from their chaotic home environment and placed in the care of their grandmother by Mrs. Ross.
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In the United States, approximately  10 percent of all children live with a grandparent. Roughly 2.7 million grandparents had primary responsibility for grandchildren under the age of 18 who lived with them (Ellis & Simmons, 2014).

“I’m seeing more and more families where the grandparents are the primary caregivers due to parental substance abuse, incarceration and mental illness. The grandparents faced a number of challenges such as poor health, poverty and a lack of access to critical resources,” explains Sidney. His 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,” says Sidney.

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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.

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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. For inquires, please contact us at ronnie@creative-medicine.com. For more information about our services, please visit www.creative-medicine.com.

 

Author-Therapist Dedicates New Book to Memory of Bullying Victim

“When I heard about what happened to Amy Francis-Joyner on the news, I thought it was eerily similar to Tameka’s story,” says Ronnie, “I decided to dedicate my book to Amy’s memory because she did not deserve what happened to her.”

Amy Francis-Joyner was born on March 8, 2000 and was a resident of New Castle, Delaware. The 16-year-old was fatally assaulted in the girls bathroom at Howard High School of Technology. Amy passed away April 21, 2016 from a pre-existing heart condition exacerbated by the brutal attack.

Three teens were charged in the death of Amy. According to court papers, the assault was planned 20 hours prior to the attack. Three girls followed Amy into the restroom, Trinity Carr, 16, is seen on video punching Amy in the head and chest. Trinity is being charged with criminally negligent homicide, a crime punishable by up to eight years in prison.

Author, Ronnie Sidney, II, MSW, felt Tameka’s New Dress related in many ways to Amy Francis-Joyner’s story. “When I heard about what happened to Amy Francis-Joyner  on the news, I thought it was eerily similar to Tameka’s story,” says Ronnie, “I decided to dedicate my book to Amy’s memory because she did not deserve what happened to her.”

Tameka’s New Dress is a graphic novel about a young girl named Tameka. On Tameka’s first day at her new school she was harassed by three bullies. Mesha, the main bully, picks on Tameka primarily because she’s light-skinned. Mesha and Tameka’s conflict highlights an issue that continues to plague communities of color, colorism.

Wilder and Cain (2011) describes colorism as:

Colorism is defined as an intraracial system of inequality based on skin color, hair texture, and facial features that bestows privilege and value on physical attributes that are closer to white” (Wilder & Cain, 2011).

Barbadian recording artist Rihanna spoke candidly about her experience being picked on in school because of her complexion:

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.

“It’s important for boys and girls of color learn new ways to deal with conflict,” says Sidney, “Violence should always be the last alternative, not the first.”

Ironically, Tameka’s New Dress begins with Tameka pushing another student. The principal asks Tameka if there’s anything going on at home and Tameka asks to speak to the guidence counselor. Child protective services removes Tameka and her siblings from their parents home after she discloses that she’s being abused and neglected.


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.”

What happened on April 21, 2016 was a tragedy; Amy Francis-Joyner lost her young life and Trinity Carr’s life will forever be altered. “Hurt people hurt people,” says Ronnie, “My hope is that Tameka’s New Dress will inspire girls to find beauty inside themselves and others.”

Please click here to support Tameka’s New Dress.


Ronnie Sidney, II, MSW is an author, publisher, therapist, app developer, philanthropist and literary activist. Ronnie partnered with his illustrators Imagine That! Design to publish Nelson Beats the Odds and Tameka’s New Dress. For more information visit http://www.creative-medicine.com.