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Reading Rockets’ children's literature expert, Maria Salvadore, brings you into her world as she explores the best ways to use kids’ books both inside — and outside — of the classroom.
Meet Ali Kamanda and Jorge Redmond, authors of Black Boy, Black Boy: Celebrating the Power of You
I met two debut authors at a summer conference and was taken with their warmth and earnestness. Their book, Black Boy, Black Boy, is an affirmation that celebrates both past accomplishments by Black men and the limitless possibilities for a child’s future. Their book is sure to encourage discussion with children and families, whether they are Black or not.
Both authors graciously agreed to a blog interview.
I’m pleased to introduce you to authors Ali Kamanda and Jorge Redmond. Let’s start their thoughts on the power of books.
(Jorge Redmond, left, and Ali Kamanda, right.)
How can books help children navigate these fraught times?
Jorge: Books can help children navigate through life by relating to and understanding different perceptions of life. It helps to understand that as people we are like books, and that you can’t be judged based upon the cover but will need and require further evaluation and conversations to make decisions about who people are.
Ali: In times like this, books can help children feel more connected to each other and to the greater good in the world around them, the message just has to be intentional in that representation. Books can highlight what is possible, provide optimistic views about life and relationships. If they highlight that there’s more that unites us than divides us, then those books will inspire kids’ imaginations while also providing avenues to dream, aspire and or escape.
Let’s go back to the beginning. Tell us a bit about your backgrounds. What do you do when you’re not writing children’s books, how you met, and what inspired this book?
Jorge: When I’m not writing children’s books, I’m working as an Assistant District Attorney, prosecuting crimes in the State of NC. In addition to that, once a week I’m usually teaching in the Legal Department at South College an adjunct instructor. I also serve on three non-profit boards. Besides that, I’m a devoted husband and father to my beautiful wife and three kids.
In whatever free time that’s not being spent at work, volunteering or with the family I like to watch movies, play soccer, take hikes, and read.
[Ali and I] met at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1996 and have been brothers ever since. The inspiration for this book came about from the murder of George Floyd, from my experience as a juvenile prosecutor, teacher, and as a father.
Ali: I was born and raised in Sierra Leone, West Africa. I grew up there till age thirteen when my family was fortunate to relocate to the United States, at the start of our nation’s civil war. Spent my teenage years in the beautiful state of North Carolina and later graduated from the best university on the planet, UNC Chapel Hill. I’ve written, directed and produced a couple short films dealing with the plight of youth in Sierra Leone. I am happily married to an amazing wife and blessed with two kids.
When I’m not writing books, I’m partnered with the Harwell Family Foundation’s not-for-profit, Salone Rising. Our aim is to empower people and enterprise in Sierra Leone. Working in the Northern District, Koinadugu, we provide grants and financial literacy to petty traders. We are also currently developing a children’s community for orphans.
I also spend my time with family. We love to play board games, nature hikes and visiting new places. My wife and I try to create experiences that hopefully produce a lifetime of good memories. When I get time to myself, I usually watch movies.
[Jorge and I] met at UNC Chapel Hill. It’s a long story but let’s just say that our love for soccer ultimately brought us together and we’ve been brothers since. Brothers from another mother.
Our sons are the inspiration for this book, ignited by our fierce desire to protect them immediately following the murder of Mr. George Floyd. The image, forever seared into memory, demanded that we contribute to the voices seeking to inspire a sense of identity for young Black boys, in particular. An identity they can be proud of, rooted in Black history and that righteously declares, “Dear Black boy, YOU matter!”
How and why did you decide to collaborate on this book?
Ali: Jorge was the spark for this book. He had an idea and when we talked it over, it just made sense. We were both having a hard time with Mr. Floyd’s murder. We acknowledged our own fears while simultaneously looking at the world through the eyes of our sons. As Black men and now as fathers, there was no shaking the challenges and responsibility of raising Black sons in America. The Black Lives Matter movement was now too real and in our own homes. Personally, I was not in the streets protesting but I knew I could contribute to the movement, and this was the opportunity. I could write something hopeful and inspiring for my son. If it could inspire him, my hope is that it can inspire Black boys, everywhere.
Jorge: The opportunity came about based upon COVID and the effect it had on my court work schedule. That combined with the murder of George Floyd allowed Ali and I to have meaningful discussion about what Black boys were seeing or not seeing as inspiration. We initially decided to write this book for our sons and then it became more of an educational moment to teach about the “hidden Black male figures” in our history that haven’t been mentioned for whatever reason.
Each couplet begins with “Dear boy, Black boy…” How do you think it impacts the reader?
Jorge: I think the beginning of the phrases impact our devotion as fathers to impact our sons in a positive way and to let them know that the love shown allows them to feel confident in who they are and what they are to become.
Ali: I believe impacts the reader by suggesting the boy in the story is loved. Love is universal and everyone, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, is deserving.
Why did you choose this form?
Jorge: I chose this form, because it brought me back to when I would read to my kids when they were younger and the book, Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See (Holt) came to mind. I also find it easier to read to a rhythm and for kids to feel confident reading simple structures combined with beautiful pictures in the background.
Ali: We chose this form because we wanted it to be simple and engaging so that young boys would want to read it.
A range of male role models are used in the book — from aviation to art, from sports to science — and not all are household names. So, what do you want your readers to take away from this carefully selected group of men?
Jorge: That there is more to life than just being a “baller” or “rapper” and that inspiration and hope of changing the fate of our youth will need to come from them learning their past, a past filled with black historical figures that are successful in a variety of ways.
Ali: We want readers to finish reading this book and start to recognize the canon of change makers in Black history that many of us just don’t know about. Change Makers whose choices in life helped shape their life’s purpose. We want to celebrate different representations of black success and inspire in readers a resounding belief in their capacity to do great things.
Is there another collaboratively written book in your future and if so, what can you tell us about it?
Ali: We plan on collaborating on many more projects. Currently, we’ve finished Black Girl, Black Girl and it’s scheduled for a 2024 release. Both of our first-born children are girls. When Black Boy, Black Boy was finished, our girls insisted on us writing their book. We are very excited about it.
Is there anything that I didn’t ask here that you’d like to address?
Jorge: Although this book is titled Black Boy, Black Boy, and it was written to our sons, who are Black boys, its written for everyone. The purpose was to help understand what’s not being taught and to inform and educate on the past, so that it will help shape the future not only for Black boys but for all with a sense of empathy and thoughtful discussion about who we are as people, why we are here as a society and the limitless future that everyone should have.
I’d like to thank Jorge and Ali for taking the time to share their thoughts and for a book that will generate awareness, questions, and discussion. Continued success to both writers!