by Felipe Winfield
Brandon Publishing made a hard right turn this summer in regard to their mission and focus for the next ten years. They are no longer interested in being a conglomerate publishing company—ruling the bookshelves of libraries and Barnes and Noble locations across the country. No, at this point it time, it’s all about equity in literature and youth. “I never thought about how subconsciously I always knew I couldn’t ever be my favorite super hero. Not because I couldn’t be rich, but because I couldn’t be white.” The superhero in which publisher Kellen E. Brandon is referring to, is Batman. It wasn’t until the release of the Marvel box office smash Black Panther, that Brandon even entertained the idea that he’d never seen himself reflected in any of his favorite cartoons or comic books.
Only 7% of the new children’s books published in 2017 were authored by people of color.
People of color make up around 37% of the US population. Yet, only about 13% (over the last 24 years) of books for children contain characters of color. Why is this? This past February, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) released its statistics on the number of children’s books authored by people of color in 2017. The disparity in opportunities for these populations are quite eye catching. Visibility is critical. It’s vital that books for youth showcase people of color and also accurately represent the cultures of these groups. “I never realized how important is was to see myself in a book. I truly believe that, not seeing myself, helped me accept the lack of equity in other places in society. Most of which are not fair at all,” says BP Publisher Kellen E. Brandon. “I truly believed that people from Alaska all lived in igloos and Indian people all had permanent face jewelry. It’s ridiculous that our youth miss out on the authentic reasoning’s behind these amazing and unique cultures within our world.”
About two years ago, Brandon, along with long time friend and Michigan State University basketball standout Kelvin Torbert, created KT & The Radical Roundball. An amazing and adventurous story about an African American kid (KT) and his friends (also African American) learning the Rules of Radical. Within these rules are lessons about hard work, humility, and honesty. When the group of friends begin to apply these rules to their own lives, they become witnesses to their entire city of Flint, Michigan being turned around for the better. Brandon featured the book as required reading for students involved in his annual BP School Reading Takeover event. In partnership with Torbert and Dominos Pizza, the book traveled across the state and was read with children of all colors and cultures. “I couldn’t believe how well received the book was. I didn’t have a real mission when we wrote it. I just thought it would be cool for kids in Flint (where Brandon’s reading event is held) to see something they could relate to in a book.” Brandon added on the initial focus for the book. The youth who’ve experienced this story found it to be very intriguing and entertaining.
“The kids in the book were just like me and my friends,”
Calvin, a third grader from Grand Blanc, Michigan was overwhelmed with excitement after reading the book. “The park that KT plays at is right across the street from my grandmothers house,” he continued. The conversations that resulted from the reading tour sparked an idea and a mission of purpose for Brandon. So he created, Pizza & Pals. The event is conducted within the classrooms of selected students over a round-table reading and discussion about the book. Youth participants will be empowered to share and reflect on what the book means to them and why. Oh, and don’t forget, there will be pizza. “In 2019, we’ll be taking this book into classrooms all over the country to discuss the empowerment that comes with seeing yourself represented in what you read,” says Brandon. The Flint publisher hopes to inspire educators to also pay close attention to the books they choose for students after being able to hear the students voices and perspectives on the matter. “It’s important that white kids, see black kids, and all kids of color, accurately depicted in books too.” Be on the look out for a Pizza & Pals event near you, or, request an event for your school this spring. Contact Brielle Taylor for more info on how to sign up.