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.”
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.
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.”
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.
- 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.
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.”
- 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.
“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.”
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Please visit his website at www.creative-medicine.com for more information.