Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Kalamazoo series.
No one in the Kalamazoo area seemed to offer books that inspire or empower Black and Brown children, says Teresa Baker.
“I didn’t see anything like this in Kalamazoo,” says Baker, who relocated here with her family about four years ago. “So coming from where we were coming from — the Southfield area of Detroit — there’s a lot of different types of programming (there) that’s focused on Black and Brown children.”
David and Teresa Baker
With news programs flooded with incidents of crime and social injustice involving African-Americans, Teresa and her husband David Baker wanted to see more positive images of Black and Brown people. So in 2015, they started Brown Boy Brown Girl LLC to market books by Black and multicultural authors, and to start an entrepreneurial legacy for their three children, now ages 8, 9, and 11.
Their effort started with a book written by Teresa and her mother Lydia Miles titled “Josie’s Bedazzled Shoes.”
“It’s to mainstream positive images of Black and Brown children,” Teresa Baker says of illustrated books like "Josie’s Bedazzled Shoes"
, the tale of a 7-year-old girl who has a difficult time making friends at a new school. She gains confidence when her mother helps her find a special pair of shoes. And those shoes help her break the ice with other children.
“When the pandemic hit, we came out with school supplies,” Baker says of Brown Boy Brown Girl LLC
. That included multi-cultural notebooks for children, which are intended to help youngsters of all races see themselves doing well while taking classes or doing homework. They can now be found in Meijer stores.
Along with becoming an independent publishing company and producing notebooks, Brown Boy Brown Girl has been involved in marketing clothing and it soon hopes to sell “Josie” dolls.
For the past two years, Baker has also been conducting a summer meet-the-authors program for youngsters in Kalamazoo. The program operates as part of a nonprofit corporation called Brown Boy Brown Girl Reads
The Bakers relocated to Kalamazoo when David began work at a nearby manufacturer. Teresa is a state-level lobbyist for Lansing-based Scofes & Associates Consulting, Inc.
“The whole idea is to make sure children of color are able to see themselves in books,” Teresa Baker says. “And the best way I thought to do that is to have a meet-the-author series.”
The program attracted 15 to 20 children from all over Kalamazoo last summer and is attracting a similar number this year. But Baker says they have room for more. Participating kids from ages eight through 11 are provided with free books from authors who visit on Saturdays to talk about their books, their characters, and the lessons to be learned from them. The program also involves the youngsters in other fun activities.
Children’s author Latasha Perry signs one for her books on July 22, 2023, for a girl participating in the meet-the-authors program of Brown Boy Brown Girl Reads.
“It’s an opportunity for these kids to have a different kind of experience,” Baker says. “One: you get to meet a real live author. How many kids can say that? Especially kids of color.”
The program will schedule at least 14 authors this season. The meetings are held on Saturdays in space that Brown Boy Brown Girl LLC rents inside the Edison Neighborhood Association
building at 816 Washington Ave.
Upcoming children's authors in the series were to include:
The Wonderful World of Coding by 11-year-old John Bolden of Kalamazoo
- Aug. 5 – S.F. Hardy of Detroit and Dara Walker of Atlanta
- Aug. 12 – Shermaine Perry-Knights of Atlanta and Tasha Thompson-Gray of Chicago
- Aug. 19 – L. Sam Zhang of Kalamazoo, and tentatively Isabel Estrada of Kalamazoo
The series has already included two child authors. Nyla Johnson, author of “Nyla’s First Visit to The Dentist,” was the guest speaker on July 29. Now age 11, the Detroit-area youngster wrote her first book at age 7. Another Kalamazoo author John Bolden II, also age 11, visited the class on July 15. He is the author of “John B and The Wonderful World of Coding.”
“It was amazing,” says author LaTashia M. Perry of her July 22, 2023 visit to BB/BG Reads. “It was such a great turn-out. The kids were interacting and asked great questions. This program is awesome.”
Perry, of Flint, is the author of what has been called the “Like Mine”
series of books that are focused on helping youngsters develop a positive self-image. They include “Hair Like Mine,” “Skin Like Mine,” “Dreams Like Mine,” “Baby Like Mine,” “Imagination Like Mine,” and “Everybody’s Body is Different.”
During her visit here from her hometown Flint, Perry tried to highlight the importance of self-awareness, self-love, and positive body image.
“I’m a mom of six and I want my kids to have books and products that reflect them,” she says. “So that they can see themselves reflected in what they read.”
Inspired by a 10-year-old boy who asked if he could write a book last summer, Baker has added another program called the Wee Writers Program. It is made up of children who are writing their own stories.
“Hair Like Mine” is one of a series of self-fullillment books, written by Flint-based children’s author LaTashia Perry.
“They come here every Friday and we have a certified teacher,” Baker explains. “She talks to them about writing mechanics and (asks) ‘What does a good story need?’ It needs to have a plot, some kind of conflict, and some kind of resolution.”
The participants are ages 8 through 11 and they meet from 9 a.m. to noon on Fridays. Their program started on June 23 and will end on Aug. 11. The Brown Boy Brown Girl Reads program, which runs from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays, started on June 24 and is set to end on Aug. 12.
Of the writing program Baker says, “Once we’re done for the summer, they, will graduate to our storybook apprentices program.” That is intended to teach them how their stories can be turned into books.
Teresa Baker, founder of Brown Boy, Brown Girl, LLC, left, stands with children’s author author LaTashia Perry in Kalamazoo on July 22, 2023.
Funding for the reading and writing programs, which are operated under Brown Boy Brown Girl Reads, a nonprofit entity, is provided by KydNet
, the Kalamazoo Youth Development Network.
“We really want more children and more families to participate,” Baker says. “I can tell you that when the children come, it really does spark an interest for them to read more books and it gives them an opportunity to meet these authors. When they get older they’ll be able to say, ‘Oh, yeah, I’ve met a ton of authors.’ This is not something that should be foreign to them.”
More information is available on Facebook
. BB/BG Reads can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.