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…

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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…

Simone Biles, Tameka’s New Dress and Why Grandparents Matter

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.

Purchase a copy of Tameka’s New Dress by clicking here.

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.”

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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.

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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.

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“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 ronnie@creative-medicine.com.