Dr. Heather L. Townsend wants children to know that black is beautiful. I recently spoke with the educator and humanitarian about her book, Black Is…
Tell me about your book, Black Is….
Black Is…is a children’s vocabulary book focused on showing positive images and using empowering vocabulary words to describe black culture. Children and adults are encouraged to use the picture clues to help define the word and ponder other examples of how each word can be used. A host of follow-up activities for parents and educators are listed in the back of the book.
Why did you decide to write it?
I wrote the book in 1994, while taking a children’s literature course at Temple University. We were challenged in the course to critically analyze Caldecott and Newbery Award–winning children’s books. We were then charged with creating a book of that caliber. I was told by several members of my class, including my professor, that I should actually have my book published. It took me 23 years to see it through, but I did it.
What do you want readers to learn from the book?
I want readers young and old to be taught more explicitly the beauty of black culture. The phrase Black is Beautiful is a generic term of sorts. However, as we delve deeper, it is actually a very necessary message. For some, it is a reminder. For others, it is a new concept. Growing up 30 years ago in a primarily white suburb, I remember resenting that fact that I was born black. I relied on images from the media and the surrounding urban areas to define what it meant to be black. The negative portrayals of black people were damaging to my self-esteem. I want as many children—from all walks of life—to know as early as possible that black culture has many wonderful aspects. All cultures do! If the white children that I went to school with had been exposed to a book like mine at that time, maybe I would not have had to endure the same level of prejudice. For this reason, I see my book as appropriate for all ages, races and cultures, although it is technically a primary-level children’s book.
What do you want readers to learn from your life?
Know that you are beautiful just as you are. I’d like children to master at an early age what took me 40-plus years to fully understand. Never give up on your dreams. It is often in our moments of darkness that greatness is being created under the surface. In a moment of pure frustration, I took steps to have my book published. The process hasn’t been perfect, but I am still here, learning and growing, and pressing forward. Anger can be a tremendous motivator. So, always look for the positive, but do not fear negative emotions. Just allow them to propel you toward your destiny and trust the process.
What advice do you have for parents who want to teach their children self-worth?
Speak positive affirmations over your child daily. Teach them to speak the words over themselves. (i.e., You are beautiful, you are intelligent, you are a winner, you are a child of the most high God.) Be patient when they make mistakes, and speak with words of kindness, even when delivering a firm message or consequence. Above all else, be the example of positive self-worth. Children will hear 20% of what we say but the other 80% they learn by watching how we behave and sensing how we feel. Take time to affirm yourself as a parent and a child of God. That energy will exude from your pores onto your children.
What’s next for Heather Townsend?
I am currently working on having my summer enrichment curriculum that I’ve built. I am also working on two new versions of Black Is… for teens and adults. I currently have 25 years in the field of education and a doctorate in educational leadership. I hope to continue inspiring youth, parents and educators through workshops and speaking engagements. I am also looking to share my gifts more nationally and internationally.
Do you have anything you would like to add?
My favorite quote: Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is the gift–that is why it is called the present!
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