Critically Acclaimed Novels Help Young Adults Explore Race and Police Brutality

The rise of police violence against Black and Hispanic teenagers is alarming. Authors Ronnie Sidney, II, Monique Morris, Angie Thomas, and Jason Reynolds seek to confront police brutality by providing well-written and exciting stories for young adult readers.

15-year-old Jordan Edwards is one of the latest victims of systematic racism and police brutality in America. Edwards, who was described as a “loving child with a humble and sharing spirit,” was a straight-A student and standout athlete at Mesquite High School. On Saturday, April 29, 2017, Balch Springs police officer Roy Oliver arrived at a party after gunfire eruptd. As Edwards and his brothers were attempting to leave the party, Oliver fired an AR-15 into the car, fatally shooting Edwards in the head.

Officer Oliver initially reported the driver of the vehicle attempted to run him over, but his body camera footage contradicted his original statement. The Balch Springs police officer was later fired and charged with murdering the 15-year-old African-American teen.

According to Shaun King, there were three different unarmed 15-year-old black boys shot and killed by law enforcement officers in the month of May.

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15-year-old Jayson Negron was shot and killed by a Bridgeport, Connecticut police officer on May 9, 2017. The officer claimed Negron ran over him and pinned him “beneath the car”. Authorities initially communicated that Negron died from a single gunshot to the head, but the following day the police chief admitted the story had been fabricated. Negron, with his hands handcuffed behind his back, bled to death after being shot in the torso. A video filmed by someone on the scene shows Jayson alive, on the ground fighting for his life after being shot.

On Saturday, May 27, 2017, a 15-year-old African-American boy named Darius Smith was shot and killed by an off-duty U.S. Custom and Border Patrol agent. The off-duty officer reported Smith and two other teens attempted to rob him at gun point. Attorney Lee Merritt found several inconsistencies after checking the story out first hand:
  1. Darius was executed. He was shot three times in the chest and twice in the legs (from the back as if he was running away).
  2. Charvis was shot in the hand and buttocks (running wounds as well)
  3. Despite multiple shots from the killer, not one shot was fired from the gun allegedly carried by these boys (the reports are a toy gun was found near the scene) While he was emptying his clip they appeared to be running for their lives.
  4. The so called robbery would have been taking place on one of the busiest stretches of highway in the region at 8PM (suns still shining) by boys who have to my knowledge never robbed anyone before.I have questions. We demand justice.
Black and Hispanic boys aren’t the only teenagers impacted by police brutality and systemic racism, Black girls are increasingly being criminalized in schools and communities. According to Monique Morris, author of Pushout, young African American women make up roughly 16 percent of girls enrolled in school but make up 33 percent of girls with school-related arrests.

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16-year-old Dajerria Becton and her legal guardian filed a federal complaint in January that alleges Eric Casebolt violated her constitutional rights by using excessive force. Casebolt, a former McKinney, Texas police officer, is captured on a Jun 6, 2015 video posted to YouTube, yelling obscenities, unholstering his service weapon, and then grabbing Becton and repeatedly slamming her face on the ground. The former McKinney police officer is also aggressively straddles the 16-year-old girl’s back while forcefully shoving his knees into her neck and back.

Another video captured on January 4, 2017, shows Ruben De Los Santos, a school resource officer (SRO), picking up and slamming a Rolesville high school student to the ground. The teen’s mother believes the officer’s use of excessive force caused her daughter to suffer from a concussion. The teen was attempting to defend her sister and break up a fight before being thrown to the ground by De Los Santos. A Wake County grand jury declined to endorse charges against the former Rolesville High School resource officer.

The rise of criminalization and violence against Black and Hispanic teenagers by law enforcement officers is alarming. Dismantling systemic racism is a daunting task, but it’s not impossible. The impetus for change is having courageous conversations with young people about race and policing. Conversations about race and policing can feel uncomfortable, vulnerable, and awkward. Parents, teachers, and librarians have embraced young adult (YA) literature that addresses police violence and social injustice.

Ronnie Sidney, II, LCSW is one of several emerging young adult authors whose books confront systematic racism, police brutality, and police-involved shootings. Sidney, author of Rest in Peace RaShawn, believes conversations about race need to be had at the dining room table. “Parents need to start talking with their children about racism and police brutality because teens are being exposed to it on social media every day,” says Sidney.

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Rest in Peace RaShawn includes discussion points on how to heal the legacy of distrust between African- American communities and law enforcement officers. During the summer of 2016, Sidney met with a diverse group of young men at a Virginia academy, asking them to answer the following questions:

What is it like to be Black or Hispanic today?

What is it like to be Black or Hispanic today?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?

The answers to those questions are littered throughout Rest in Peace RaShawn and give a real voice to a fictional story.

Authors Ronnie Sidney, II, LCSWAngie ThomasJason Reynolds, and Monique W. Morris provide well-written and exciting stories for young adult readers that explore race and policing. This new crop of YA novels use fiction to address police brutality and police shootings of unarmed Black teenagers. I have listed titles parents, teachers, librarians, and counselors can use to explore systematic racism and police brutality with teenagers.

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Rest in Peace RaShawn by Ronnie Sidney, LCSW

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. The author, Ronnie Sidney, II, MSW, captures the emotional upheaval suffered by families and communities nationwide following the sudden, violent demise of black men. He 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, and provides thoughtful discussion points on how to heal the legacy of distrust between African- American communities and the police who are supposed to protect them.

Rest in Peace RaShawn completes a trinity of quality young adult literature by Sidney, including the first books in his series, Nelson Beats the Odds and Tameka’s New Dress. All three 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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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

“Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.”

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All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Keily

“A 2016 Coretta Scott King Author Honor book, and recipient of the Walter Dean Myers Award for Outstanding Children’s Literature.

In this Coretta Scott King Honor Award–winning novel, two teens—one black, one white—grapple with the repercussions of a single violent act that leaves their school, their community, and, ultimately, the country bitterly divided by racial tension.

A bag of chips. That’s all sixteen-year-old Rashad is looking for at the corner bodega. What he finds instead is a fist-happy cop, Paul Galluzzo, who mistakes Rashad for a shoplifter, mistakes Rashad’s pleadings that he’s stolen nothing for belligerence, mistakes Rashad’s resistance to leave the bodega as resisting arrest, mistakes Rashad’s every flinch at every punch the cop throws as further resistance and refusal to STAY STILL as ordered. But how can you stay still when someone is pounding your face into the concrete pavement?

There were witnesses: Quinn Collins—a varsity basketball player and Rashad’s classmate who has been raised by Paul since his own father died in Afghanistan—and a video camera. Soon the beating is all over the news and Paul is getting threatened with accusations of prejudice and racial brutality. Quinn refuses to believe that the man who has basically been his savior could possibly be guilty. But then Rashad is absent. And absent again. And again. And the basketball team—half of whom are Rashad’s best friends—start to take sides. As does the school. And the town. Simmering tensions threaten to explode as Rashad and Quinn are forced to face decisions and consequences they had never considered before.

Written in tandem by two award-winning authors, this four-starred reviews tour de force shares the alternating perspectives of Rashad and Quinn as the complications from that single violent moment, the type taken from the headlines, unfold and reverberate to highlight an unwelcome truth.”

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Pushout by Monique M. Morris

“Fifteen-year-old Diamond stopped going to school the day she was expelled for lashing out at peers who constantly harassed and teased her for something everyone on the staff had missed: she was being trafficked for sex. After months on the run, she was arrested and sent to a detention center for violating a court order to attend school.

Just 16 percent of female students, Black girls make up more than one-third of all girls with a school-related arrest. The first trade book to tell these untold stories, Pushout exposes a world of confined potential and supports the growing movement to address the policies, practices, and cultural illiteracy that push countless students out of school and into unhealthy, unstable, and often unsafe futures.

For four years Monique W. Morris, author of Black Stats, chronicled the experiences of black girls across the country whose intricate lives are misunderstood, highly judged—by teachers, administrators, and the justice system—and degraded by the very institutions charged with helping them flourish. Morris shows how, despite obstacles, stigmas, stereotypes, and despair, black girls still find ways to breathe remarkable dignity into their lives in classrooms, juvenile facilities, and beyond.”

Other notable books that confront the epidemic of police violence include the following:

  • ‘Tyler Johnson Was Here,’ by Jay Coles
  • ‘Dear Martin,’ by Nic Stone
  • ‘I Am Alfonso Jones,’ Written by Tony Medina and Illustrated by John Jennings and Stacey Robinson
  • ‘Ghost Boys,’ by Jewell Parker Rhodes
  • ‘How It Went Down,’ by Kekla Magoon
  • ‘Between the World and Me,’ Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • ‘They Can’t Kill Us All,’ Wesley Lowery

About Us: Creative Medicine: Healing Through Words, LLC is a company started by Ronnie Sidney, II, LCSW. The  company has published four books, Nelson Beats The OddsTameka’s New Dress, Rest in Peace RaShawn, and Nelson Beats the Odds: Compendium One. The companies founder is a father, therapist, app developer , philanthropist and literary activist. Sidney helped develop a free mobile app, “Nelson Beats The Odds Comic Creator”, which 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.

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.

Dear NAACP Image Awards, Give Me an Explanation or My Money Back

To the NAACP Image Awards Literary Committee, I feel like you took advantage of me. I’m a hard working Black man, I don’t have $300 to throw away without an explanation. Ya’ll got some ‘splainin to do…

My name is Ronnie Sidney, II, MSW and I’m a self-published author out of Tappahannock, Virginia. On October 24, 2016, I received this email from Malica McLyn, Literary Coordinator at the NAACP Image Awards:

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I was so excited, the first thing I did was post the email on Facebook. It received a ton of likes and support from my Facebook friends. I spoke with Malica over the phone and decided to submit my second book Tameka’s New Dress.

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Tameka’s New Dress gives girls of color a new-found confidence by celebrating their #BlackGirlMagic. 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. 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.

Fast Forward to December 14, 2016…

I log onto the NAACP Image Awards  website to find they’ve selected nominees for the Outstanding Literary Work  – Youth/Teens. I saw several deserving books, but I couldn’t find mine. I wasn’t mad that I didn’t make the cut, I was mad that I wasn’t notified by the award committee first. It felt like the time I didn’t see my name on the cut list for the JV Basketball.

In addition to the $220 nonreturnable application fee, I had to mail off 15 copies of Tameka’s New Dress to NAACP Image Awards Literary Committee. Just like the application fee, the books are also nonreturnable. I was notified about the opportunity just seven days before the deadline. Honestly, I don’t even know if the committee received or reviewed my books.

Last year I submitted Amazon Best-Seller Nelson Beats the Odds for several different literary awards, including the VLA Graphic Novel Diversity Award. The VLA notified me via email before making their official announcement. Included in the email were reviews from committee members. Not one of the literary awards I applied for required an application fee- they only required me to send them copies of my book. I didn’t stress it because the committee would typically donate the books to a local library.

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I emailed my concerns to the NAACP Image Awards Literary Committee on December  14th, 2016- five days later I’m still awaiting a reply. Where’s the transparency? The $220 fee I submitted is nonrefundable, I get that; all I want is some accountability. I have 3 simple questions for the NAACP Image Awards Literary Committee:

  1. Did you receive my books?
  2. Did you review my books?
  3. Where is the feedback from your reviews?

To the NAACP Image Awards Literary Committee, I feel like you took advantage of me. I’m a hard working Black man, I don’t have $300 to throw away without an explanation. Ya’ll got some ‘splainin to do…

Grammy Award Winning Artist’s Unreleased Yearbook Photos and Demo

Not only is Chris a great singer and performer, he was also a really good basketball player. A lot of folks from Tappahannock said he could have easily played D-1 if he pursued basketball instead of a music career.

My name is Ronnie Sidney, II, MSW and I am the author of Nelson Beats the Odds , Tameka’s New Dress and Nelson Beats the Odds: Compendium One. I wasn’t the first person from Tappahannock, Virginia to beat the odds, that honor belongs to Grammy Award winning artist Chris Brown. A few years ago, my fiance and I were going through some stuff and she found a demo CD Chris Brown passed out before he became famous.

I didn’t know he went by “C-Syzle”, even though we rode on the same school bus to school in the mornings. Chris and his family attended a church my father pastored for over 20 years. I saw Chris at least six days a week, so you can only imagine how surprised I was to see him on BET. I remember watching the “Run It” video at Old Dominion University like, “yoooo, that’s Chris Brown!” Chris had star power since Kindergarten. The older kids on the school bus would practically beg him to sing Candy Rain by Soul For Real every single day. We would also ask him to do Michael Jackson and Usher Raymond impressions. 

My fiance is a few years younger than me so there were photos of Chris in her old yearbooks. I was shocked to see how tall he grew- the Chris Brown I remember was a short, curly haired kid. His older cousin was in my grade, the two were inseparable.

Chris is a natural born entertainer. I remember him wooing the crowd with back flips and Harlem shakes during half time of varsity basketball games. Not only is Chris a great performer, he is also a really good basketball player. A lot of folks from Tappahannock said he could have easily played D-1 if he pursued basketball instead of a music career.

Not many people make it big from Tappahannock Chris, so it’s been amazing watching your career take off. I knew one day you would be famous, but had no idea you would be one of the most talented artists of this generation. Through the ups and downs, you will always have my support. You single-handedly put our town of the map and inspired me to push Nelson Beats the Odds to the top.

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.

Author-Therapist Seeks to Inspire Struggling Students with Free App

Author-therapist Ronnie Sidney, II, MSW ’s latest addition to his box of therapeutic tools is the Nelson Beats The Odds Comic Creator app for iOs mobile devices.

Author-therapist Ronnie Sidney, II, MSW ’s latest addition to his box of therapeutic tools is the Nelson Beats The Odds Comic Creator app for iOs mobile devices. The free app allows iPhone, iPod and iPad users to substitute their own photos to create composite images personalizing the characters’ faces in the book’s illustrations.

Shortly after releasing 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, Sidney developed the Nelson Beats the Odds Comic Creator app.  The author-therapist partnered with Potenza Global Solutions, a successful IT company out of India, and released the app on October 7, 2015. The author-therapist found the Indian IT company on freelance website called Upwork.

Below are a few of Nelson Beats the Odds Comic Creator’s features:

Sidney says his inspiration for the app came from an unlikely source:

I met a lady at a National Foster Parent Association conference in Norfolk, Virginia and she suggested I create a page in my book where a kid could add their face to Nelson’s body. She believed young people would be inspired to beat the odds if they could picture themselves in the book. That is when the light bulb went off, instead of having kids mess up their book, I could create an app that would help them celebrate their strengths and improve their self-esteem.

Nelson Beats The Odds Comic Creator is a simple way to inspire the world with creative photos. Users can snap a photo with their iOS device or choose a photo from their photo library. Apply stunning filters, photo effects, and an ever growing collection of stickers, comic strips, frames, word bubbles, text art and more. Users can crop out their faces and place them in one of ten Nelson Beats the Odds and Tameka’s New Dress illustrations. Nelson Beats The Odds Comic Creator allows users to share their photos on social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and more.

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Sidney’s app allows users to add graduation caps and gowns to their photos- he hopes it will encourage struggling students to beat the odds. “We underestimate how powerful images are,” says Sidney, “If a kid can see themselves graduating, they may think twice about quitting school.”

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 a Specific Learning Disability (SLD). Sidney graduated from Essex High School in 2001 but with a 1.8 GPA, ranking at the bottom of his class. The author-therapist went on to earn his Bachelor of Science degree in Human Services from Old Dominion University in 2006 and his Master of Social Work degree from Virginia Commonwealth University.

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

The self-esteem app includes one more big surprise, free access to Nelson Beats the Odds and Tameka’s New Dress eBooks. “I want every kid to have the opportunity to experience my books,” says Sidney. The best-selling author hopes to release the app on android devices summer of 2017.

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.

Best-Selling Children’s Book Author Spills the Tea on Self-Publishing

My success as an author-publisher has attracted the attention of hundreds of thousands of people all over the world. Since releasing Amazon best-seller Nelson Beats the Odds, I’ve 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.

My name is Ronnie Sidney, II, MSW and I 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. I released Nelson Beats the Odds: Compendium One and Tameka’s New Dress this past summer. The compendium  gives readers a chance to experience Nelson Beats the Odds and Tameka’s New Dress in one thrilling graphic novel.

After being diagnosed as learning disabled and spending seven years in special education, the last thing I thought I would become was an author. I wasn’t a big reader or writer growing up, in fact my poor handwriting landed me in special education. Despite my challenges, I always dreamed of starting my own business. My dream came true in 2015 when I launched Creative Medicine: Healing Through Words, LLC. I used the my company to publish my three graphic novels. 

My success as an author-publisher has attracted the attention of hundreds of thousands of people all over the world. Since releasing Amazon best-seller Nelson Beats the Odds,  I’ve been featured on MicheLAFox and Friends Weekend and NBC 12 News.  Last year, I shared my wisdom in a workshop entitled “Self-Publishing and Social Justice“. I created the workshop to help prospective self-publishers create stories with social justice themes. Below are nine tips that helped me sell nearly two thousand books online and become an Amazon best-seller.

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1. Build a Following

The most common piece of advice I’ve heard from successful authors is to start a blog. I took the advice and started Nelson Beats the Odds on WordPress.com. My blog “Former special education student publishes best-selling children’s book” has over 50,000 views and over 24,000 Facebook shares. The blog’s popularity landed me interviews, speaking engagements and a huge increase in book sales.

My social media portfolio includes Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and Snapchat. My Facebook page is very popular, accumulating over 9,600 likes, thanks in part to Facebook ads.  I joined several Facebook groups including Black Educators Rock, an online group with over 150,000 African American educators. Sharing posts in the group helped my book become an Amazon Best Seller in the Kindle Store Learning Disability category.

My visibility on Twitter @ronniesidneyii, @nelsonbeatstheo, Instagram ronniesidneyii, @nelsonbeatstheo, Tumblr @creativemedicinehtw and Snapchat @nelsonbeatstheo is steadily growing. Instagram is great because it allows you to simultaneously post on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Flickr. Instagram is also owned by Facebook, so your Facebook ads appear on Instagram for no additional cost.

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2. Find your Target Audience

From day one my goal was to inspire young people to beat the odds. When I grew up, there were very few children’s books with African American characters or characters with disabilities. I was in special education for seven years and I know exactly how it feels to be a struggling learner. Nelson Beats the Odds is a reflection of my experiences and a testament to my grit.

My experience working with families headed by grandparents inspired me to write and self-publish Tameka’s New Dress. As a therapist, 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 face a number of challenges such as poor health, poverty and a lack of access to critical resources.

Nelson Beats the Odds gave me access to networks I was previously unaware of. I have worked with the Parent Educational Advocacy Training Center (PEATC), I’m Determined, Virginia Council for Learning Disabilities (VCLD) and Virginia Council for Exceptional Children (VCEC) to advocate for the needs of exceptional education students across the state of Virginia. I’ve been invited as a keynote speaker by the Virginia Department of Education, Virginia Union University, VCU School of Social Work, Central Rappahannock Regional Library and the National Foster Parent Association.

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3. Hire/Recruit Free Lancers and Friends with Desired Skill Sets

Once I decided to write Nelson Beats the Odds, I went to Facebook to see if I could find an illustrator. Unforunately, none of the dozen or so referrals caught my eye. After joining eLance, over 30 illustrators from around the world expressed interest in working on Nelson Beats the Odds. Imagine that! Design caught my attention because of their diverse portfolio and personal connection. Kurt Keller, 1/2 of Imagine that! Design, told me he was diagnosed with dyslexia and spent several years in special education. I felt safe leaving my story in his hands because he related to it.

I worked with a variety of friends on both Nelson Beats the Odds and Tameka’s New Dress. A high school friend named Tiffany Carey Day has been my biggest contributor, serving as chief editor on both books. Editing is not my strong suit, so Tiffany and others helped me out tremendously.

*Unfortunately, eLance no longer exists, so I encourage authors looking for illustrators to visit Upwork or Hire an Illustrator.*

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4.  Be Fearless

You’ll never have enough time, money or support. Get use to long nights, overdraft fees, maxed out credit cards and disappointments. One of my favorite musicians Fela Kuti said it best, “the secret to life is to have no fear.” Fearlessness created the foundation for my success.

My life changed when I stopped being a bystander and started being the baby who picks up a remote control for the first time and presses every button until something happens. One of the strengths of being diagnosed with ADHD is impulsivity. There have been times when I hopped in my car with a trunk full of books and set up at an event I just heard about. My journey has taught me to trust my instincts .

Last year I read two of the most empowering books ever written, “The Alchemist” and “The Secret“. The insight offered in the two books are invaluable, particularly for those seeking their divine purpose. There is an awesome video Steve Harvey did last year about jumping. In order for you to launch your dream, you have to be fearless and jump.

5.  Set a Modest Kickstarter Goal or Use Sites like Indiegogo

The biggest mistake I made was setting my Kickstarter goal for Nelson Beats the Odds at $10,000. I was really ambitious and thought I could reach the goal in 45 days. I only managed to raise about $1,800. Since I didn’t reach my goal I was unable to receive any money. When I began working on my second book, Tameka’s New Dress, I set my goal for $700. I raised a little over a grand this time around but hit my goal.  Crowdfunding sites are great platforms to launch your vision. I recommend you research Kickstarter other crowdfunding sites like Indiegogo and GoFundMe before you make your decision.

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6.  Stay Hungry

I’m pushing my brand just as hard today as I did when I first launched. Since releasing Nelson Beats the Odds, I’ve been featured on MicheLAFox and Friends WeekendNBC 12 News and Comcast. My work ethic and persistence also landed me interviews with Understood.org, Teach.com, ADD.org, Virginia Pilot, Free Lance Star, Rappahannock Times Dispatch and the Richmond Times Dispatch. Work your butt off to be the best in your respective genre and they visibility will come.

7. Use Multiple Publishing Platforms & Distributors

When I realeased my first book, Nelson Beats The Odds, I didn’t know anything about publishing. Every website I searched recommended using Createspace. The site is free, easy to use and has great customer service. In less than a day my book was available on Amazon and Kindle. I encourage everyone to try CreatespaceAmazon Kindle Direct Publishing and Ingramspark. It’s very difficult to get books into traditional book stores, but the three sites listed above give you access to Amazon.com, Walmart.com, BarnesandNoble.com, BooksaMillion.com.

Amazon also has a feature called Author Central. I created an Amazon author page that allows me to upload my blog, biography, photos and videos. The page also gives you access to the Nielson Bookscan. The bookscan gives you an opportunity to track your sales and view which region your books are most popular in.  As of October 16, 2016 I have sold 1,911 books. On average, I bring home about a $1,000 in online sales.

Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing is another great service.They have a feature where you can offer your eBook for free five times over the span of 90 days. I also encourage authors to publish their book in paperback, hardcover, eBook and audio book. The more platforms you have, the more accessibility customers have to your products.

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Ronnie Sidney, II, MSW and Neal Shusterman, 2015 National Book Award Winner

8. Network & Promote
Since writing Nelson Beats The Odds, I’ve had an opportunity to meet authors, educators, musicians, poets, clothing designers and artists. I intentionally surround myself with successful people. I spend a lot of time scanning social media and other internet websites for events and individuals to network with. I vend at least once per week. Vending is a great way to make money and network.

When I released my first book, I asked friends to share photos of their children reading Nelson Beats The Odds. It was an effective strategy that increased my visibility. I started #iBeatTheOdds, a popular Facebook social media campaign , to give individuals a platform to share stories about how they beat the odds. It was liberating for me to share my story and I want to give others the same opportunity.

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.  The app gives the brand an additional platform to promote on.

9. Expect Nothing and Appreciate Everything

Developing thick skin is mandatory because not everyone will buy into your dream. There when nothing goes your way and you want to quit. Shake it off and bounce back- you will learn more from your failures than your successes. Remember, always show gratitude to those who helped you along your personal journey.

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

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.