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Amplify Black Stories: Presented by the Brown Bookshelf & the Highlights Foundation

by Nick Rodriquez, CBC intern

Nick was invited to join one of the seminars in early May, as CBC was a contributing sponsor.

Amplify Black Stories is a year-long program sponsored by the Brown Bookshelf and the Highlights Foundation for storytellers and publishing professionals to help get Black authors’ voices heard and be more accessible to the public. To open the May 5 Publishing Teams program, Alison Green Myers introduced Katura Hudson, Culture and Communications Senior Director of ConnectiveRx. Hudson started with some thought-provoking questions for the group of 40+ publishing professionals, such as what makes for success and how does the publishing world view it? This got the group started with many different answers, from book sales to movie deals, awards, and more. Hudson talked about a recent book award that had over 400 entries about the Black experience, with the majority of them coming from white authors. She pointed out that the Black experience is not being told by enough Black authors, which is why the seminar was and is so important. She then asked everyone to focus on three main points in the breakout groups.

As a part of Dr. Ebony Elizabeth Thomas’ group, we made a JamBoard on which we posted our answers to three questions: a) the overall strengths of our organizations, b) what data on diversity and representation we use to drive decisions at our organizations, and c) what resources we hoped to receive throughout the program. For the first question, some strengths mentioned included: “a smaller house allows us to be adaptable and take risks,” “we work with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion consultants,” “we’ve formed a DEI counsel to pinpoint where there are opportunities to grow,” and “no hierarchical; suggestions from every level of employee are seriously considered.” 

In terms of resources, some said they would like “ways to support Black creators as they transition from pre-publication with editorial to post-publication with sales and marketing staff.” Others added that they’d “love information directed at specific platforms and mechanisms for [what to advocate for in their marketing plans].”

For the next event, publishing professionals held a seminar that featured the Assistant Director of African American Studies at the University of South Carolina, Dr. Nancy Tolson; the co-founders of Just Us Press, Wade and Cheryl Hudson; and Dr. Kim Parker. Together they spoke on why they joined the Amplify Black Stories program and what it means to them for it to succeed. The topics ranged from their own personal stories of childhood to fairytales and the inequality expressed through them. Such an example would be the story of “Snow White,” and the famous lines: “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all.” Focusing on the word fairest, when looking at the many definitions, it comes down to who is whitest of them all. They continued by saying that fairness needs to be viewed in a multi-colored lens, so that it can include, not just the fair skinned, but everyone alike. Wade and Cheryl both shared their experience owning a publishing house that focuses on Black children and the Black experience. They shared that “we need to define ourselves and tell our own stories,” and this is not a new idea, it has been around since The Freedom Journal, the first Black newspaper. They defined Black children’s literature as “literature, language, poetry… storytelling by, for, [and] about the Black experience.” They advocate for stories about the Black experience to be written and illustrated by Black people, so that they have control over the message and tone of the works they are presenting. They also say that these books are not tools to be used during Black History Month to prop up sales, and that they should be presented wholeheartedly all year round, and not just 28 days out of the year. The speakers of this seminar traded ideas on helping up-coming authors, presenting the books to publishers, and how to enhance the publishing world from the inside out. 

Overall, Amplify Black Stories created a safe space for publishers and professionals in the field to come together to discuss how to improve the telling and sharing of Black stories. Together we can make a lasting change in Black children’s literature, giving every child a way to see themselves in the stories they read. 

More information about Amplify Black Stories here.

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