I SEE U

I SEE U, Episode 70: Seeing (Me) Is Believing with New York Times best-selling author Tami Charles [Encore]

New York Times best-selling author, Tami Charles, acknowledges some improvement, but says there still exists a large diversity gap in children’s book publishing-adding that this disparity directly impacts both the over- and under-represented groups in our society. This episode is an encore of the January 14, 2023 original broadcast.

NY Times Best Selling Children's Author, Tami Charles.

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As we honor and pay tribute to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on this national holiday weekend, many Black American parents are taking this opportunity to educate their children—and have THE TALK, an unguarded conversation about racism, discrimination and the richness of Black culture. Those sometimes difficult conversations served as inspiration for children's book author, Tami Charles – who wrote and used her own New York Times best-selling picture book, "All Because You Matter," as a springboard to navigate through the intense dialogues she's had with her son. Join Host Eddie Robinson as he chats candidly with acclaimed writer, Tami Charles. The former New Jersey schoolteacher sheds light on the obstacles she's experienced as a woman of color who found it even more of a challenge to maneuver through the children's book industry. Her latest book, "We Are Here," celebrates the extraordinary history of trailblazers, including Dr. King, who sacrificed their lives in hopes of building a better future for all people.

 

Full Transcript

00:00:00] Eddie Robinson: As we honor and pay tribute to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. many Black American parents are taking this opportunity to educate their children and have The Talk, a conversation about racism, discrimination, and the richness of Black culture.

[00:00:17] Tami Charles: It was the response to what my son was seeing on the news. We are thugs. We are animals. Look at these protesters like, no, no, no, no. We are not. Look at what our ancestors have done.

[00:00:30] Eddie Robinson: I’m Eddie Robinson, and stay tuned as we chat unguarded with New York Times best selling author Tami Charles. We’ll explore the inspiration behind her famed children’s books that celebrate black men and women of the past.

[00:00:43] Eddie Robinson: Plus, we’ll learn more about her remarkable journey, from working as a school teacher in New Jersey, to earning success as an acclaimed writer. Oh yeah, I feel you. We hear you. I SEE U.

[00:01:09] Eddie Robinson: You’re listening to I SEE U. I’m Eddie Robinson. She’s a New York Times best selling author of numerous books for young readers, including the picture book, All Because You Matter.

[00:01:34] Eddie Robinson: Her latest book, We Are Here, is being promoted as a follow up to All Because You Matter, but still considered a standalone book. We Are Here celebrates the rich history of Black and brown men and women and pays tribute to those individuals who’ve made momentous contributions from the beginning of time, reminding young readers and children of their roots, their background, their heritage, and inviting them to imagine a future that shines even brighter, stressing to them that they’re brilliant, that they’re extraordinary.

[00:02:05] Eddie Robinson: And far beyond ordinary, and it’s an especially poignant piece during our recognition of key heroes like the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and how we here at I SEE U look to encourage those who are listening to take a moment, if you haven’t done so already, to consider having those conversations with your own children now, during what I like to call the soul holidays.

[00:02:31] Eddie Robinson: Such as MLK day and having The Talk, if you will, with your son or your daughter or a loved one or a young family member and who better to have on our show to help us navigate those conversations of The Talk and having The Talk is a former teacher herself and now full time author and best selling author, Tami Charles, Tami, thank you so much for being a guest on I SEE U.

[00:02:57] Tami Charles: It’s my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

[00:03:00] Eddie Robinson: You know, the book you wrote entitled, All Because You Matter, uh, did really well and became a New York Times bestseller. You know, tell us more about the inspiration behind the creation of that book, All Because You Matter, and how your latest book, We Are Here, how they’re connected.

[00:03:17] Tami Charles: Okay. So. I’m a mom. And like you said, The Talk.

[00:03:23] Eddie Robinson: Yeah.

[00:03:24] Tami Charles: I just didn’t expect to have the talk when he was in kindergarten.

[00:03:29] Eddie Robinson: Wow.

[00:03:30] Tami Charles: You know.

[00:03:31] Eddie Robinson: Interesting.

[00:03:32] Tami Charles: So when my son Christopher was in kindergarten, he learned about Dr. King. His teacher did an incredible job teaching about Dr. King’s legacy. But the one thing that my son could not wrap his head around Was, if Dr. King was such a good guy who wanted all these wonderful things for everyone, people of all backgrounds, Mommy, why did the bad guys hurt him? Well, that was a lot. When he asked that question, I said, oh, God, here we go, you know? It was at that moment. That I knew, oh boy, this is the start of these tough, yet very important conversations I know I’ll need to have with my son.

[00:04:19] Tami Charles: So I wrote All Because You Matter because I wanted to have a starting point for conversations like that. I wanted to write something that would remind my son that there’s a place for him in this world. An affirmation of worth. a reminder that he matters. Now, yes, I wrote it for him, but then this beautiful thing happened where that message kind of blossomed into a very much needed message for other children like him, children of color, black children, uh, children from marginalized backgrounds, but essentially all children because what child doesn’t.

[00:05:01] Tami Charles: Want to hear that they matter. So that book published in 2020. And here comes my son again, older, wiser. He saw some things on the news. He read some headlines. He saw George Floyd. Mommy, who is that? Why are they doing that to him? He saw social media accounts where people criticized peaceful protestors, but yet called them animals and thugs.

[00:05:37] Tami Charles: Mommy, why are they calling them that? They’re not doing anything wrong. And just when I thought I was done, I said all I needed to say in All Because You Matter, I realized I wasn’t done. That now I needed to add to that story. It also made me think, these conversations made me think of the child that I lost a few years ago.

[00:06:01] Tami Charles: Had my daughter come to me? With those same questions as my son, what would I have said to her? Well, that’s when it clicked to change that narrative, to shift the narrative away from animals and thugs and the terrible act against George Floyd and what we were seeing in the media. I would have told her about her legacy, which I did with my son.

[00:06:28] Tami Charles: So I said, well, let me, let me switch things around and now let me talk about the history. Because when someone calls you, an animal or a thug, you need to have the evidence as to why you are not. So that’s where We Are Here came from. That’s the inspiration just really stemming from conversations with my baby.

[00:06:49] Eddie Robinson: Yeah. And those conversations, I mean, they’re so, they’re tough, right? I mean, here I am a new dad.

[00:06:57] Tami Charles: Oh, congratulations. What’d you have? What do you have?

[00:07:01] Eddie Robinson: I have a son. He’s now 16 months old and you know, but being gay, um, that’s pretty intense, you know, and

[00:07:13] Tami Charles: It is intense, but hey, there’s, there’s ways, and you found a way, so kudos to you, congrats.

[00:07:21] Eddie Robinson: Yes, and it was, and thank you so much, and it’s been a very, very intense journey, because, you know, it’s, it’s difficult for me to locate books, or even media driven content. for my child. He’s Black, but he’s also a mixed race with Polish, Irish, and French background, and I’m trying to figure out how can I just ask this without being intense, but you know, as far as skin color, because I noticed that he, he’s starting to notice those kinds of things.

[00:08:00] Tami Charles: Okay.

[00:08:00] Eddie Robinson: And um, And I do find it pretty challenging to locate books about this kind of aspect and that representation. But have you run into instances or incidents? Through talking with parents about how to navigate the talk through that world of skin and skin complexions and skin color and how that might affect children at an early age.

[00:08:24] Tami Charles: So the cliff, that’s quite the question. You got it all out. First. I’m going to say you say he’s 16 months now you’re going to blink and he’s going to be 16.

[00:08:35] Eddie Robinson: Years. Yeah.

[00:08:38] Tami Charles: So there’s that.

[00:08:39] Eddie Robinson: Okay.

[00:08:40] Tami Charles: Uh, the other thing that I’ll say. say is this. I can think of one instance, a recent instance where I was in Salt Lake City.

[00:08:53] Tami Charles: Well, on the outskirts of Salt Lake City. And I was the only brown face at this event, but I want to preface by saying it was, it was an event for teachers and librarians. I was a keynote speaker. They were lovely. And, and I mean that genuinely, so yeah, I was the only brown face, but I wasn’t like made to feel that way per se.

[00:09:19] Tami Charles: And the food was rocking too. Let me just add that the food was really good. They treated me like royalty, but there was one teacher who kind of pulled me to the side and she had this look of, um, like hope slash appreciation, but like with a little bit of tears, you know, and she told me how she goes, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we’re a very white state.

[00:09:50] Tami Charles: And I was like, you don’t say that was the only time where it was like pointed out, you know, but she goes with that said, I have to tell you about an incident that happened in my classroom. She had a Black student and a white student and the white student said a slur to her one Black student in the whole class because this particular part of Utah was not diverse at all she did something interesting.

[00:10:20] Tami Charles: She took All Because You Matter and she gave that book to the white student and I didn’t understand what she was saying at the time I thought she gave it to her Black student to go. I’ll go home and read this This book will make you feel like you matter, you know.

[00:10:38] Eddie Robinson: Sure.

[00:10:38] Tami Charles: That’s not what she did She gave the book to the white student and told the white student to read it with his family so that they can have conversations built around what he said and the very next day this kid came to school with the book and a brand new understanding of the power of his words.

[00:11:07] Tami Charles: Those two boys are best friends now. He apologized. He empathized. And now they’re best friends, but to, to really instill that level of empathy and respect now, I think that’s the way forward. That’s the stuff that keeps me writing.

[00:11:34] Eddie Robinson: You’re listening to I SEE U. I’m Eddie Robinson, and we’re speaking with former Jersey school teacher and now New York times, bestselling author, Tami Charles, her latest book. We are here celebrates the rich history of Black and Brown men and women and pays tribute to those individuals, especially remarkable leaders like the Reverend Dr.

[00:11:52] Eddie Robinson: Martin Luther King jr. Who’ve made extraordinary contributions from the past. Uh, Tami, why do you think it’s so important to teach children about our legacy and how it’s important to teach children now more than ever?

[00:12:08] Tami Charles: Yeah. Teach them now. Get them while they’re young. I don’t know about you, but for me growing up, I didn’t see a lot of books that featured kids of color being the heroes of their own stories, you know, kids just being kids doing ordinary and extraordinary things.

[00:12:30] Tami Charles: In fact, a little not so fun fact for you, in 1986, 3, 000 children’s books were published. That year, only 18 of them were written by Black authors or authors of color featuring our kids. That’s 0. 6%. The representation is, or the lack thereof, is jarring. So, when you look at figures like that, and you fast forward to one of our most recent figures is, we’ve gone from 0.

[00:13:07] Tami Charles: 6 percent of representation to now it’s at, I think the last… done is 11%. Okay. It’s a little better. It’s not great, but it’s gotten better. All right. But this is why representation matters. Yes. That representation is for us and selfishly it’s for 12 year old me who would have loved to see more books like this.

[00:13:32] Tami Charles: On the shelves, but let’s normalize that now for children. Now if they grow up now with diversity being normalized and and learning about other people through the pages of a book, definitely think that’s the way that we just have a more unified society. Well, let’s do it now. Let’s not wait until they’re adults and stubborn.

[00:13:57] Eddie Robinson: Yeah, that’s right. And. How do you believe representation in children’s books, how does that affect young readers that you’ve noticed as a result of your journey?

[00:14:10] Tami Charles: Well I think if young readers, any young reader, if they’re reading one single storyline, that doesn’t really reflect a culture. A lot of people think that, you know, maybe we’re a monolith.

[00:14:28] Tami Charles: We’re not a monolith. We have very You know, varied and authentic lived experiences as authentic as theirs from their culture. So if they get to have these broad stories, guess what? We should have that too. I wrote a book about the first Black woman to work for the United States post office and she was one of the early settlers of the West.

[00:15:01] Tami Charles: She did that when no, first of all, it was not a job for women. So there’s that. And then to be a Black woman, there’s that, but then also to be at a, an ex slave. To, to literally settle the West. These are these hidden histories that I feel like all kids could benefit from that. Wow. Look at all of these stumbling blocks that could have prevented her.

[00:15:27] Tami Charles: Her name is Mary Fields from pursuing this as a career and she did it anyway. Why? Because that’s legacy. That’s determination. There’s no color that you can attach to that. It’s just strength and that’s, that’s something that. Any kid could pick up and be inspired by.

[00:15:47] Eddie Robinson: As a former New Jersey school teacher. What was it like making that transition, you know, from educator to author, you know, what happened that triggered that particular decision?

[00:15:58] Tami Charles: So I wanted to be an author when I was a kid. Um, but here we go again, representation, how could I be something that I wasn’t seeing? Right? So I did the next best thing and I became a teacher.

[00:16:14] Tami Charles: It’s literally in my DNA. My mom was the teacher at my school. Then she became the vice principal at my school and then the principal. Hello.

[00:16:24] Eddie Robinson: Nice. Wow.

[00:16:26] Tami Charles: So it was like, I was, yeah, I was destined to be a teacher. I put the author dream in my back pocket because like that wasn’t even an option. But when I became a teacher, I learned about contemporary authors like Kwame Alexander and, uh, well, Karen Parsons.

[00:16:49] Tami Charles: She’s a friend of mine and, um, Meg Medina, Jacqueline Woodson. And I’m like, Whoa, where were these books? I was a kid. So I was reading these books with my students, seeing the spark in their eyes and how normalized it was for them to read these kinds of books. So they, I shared with them my childhood dream and they were like, Oh, Ms. Charles, you have to, you have to try to, you know, reach that dream. So they pushed me and here I am.

[00:17:21] Eddie Robinson: Coming up, more of our conversation with acclaimed author. Tami Charles and her journey from being a teacher to a New York Times best selling writer of children’s books. And did you know that she was part of an R&B singing group? Why has she been so guarded about revealing details about that group? I’m Eddie Robinson.

[00:17:40] Eddie Robinson: A captivating second segment of I SEE U happens in just a moment.

[00:17:51] Eddie Robinson: If you’re enjoying this program, please be sure to subscribe to our podcast. I SEE U with Eddie Robinson. You can hear all the past episodes and be notified when new episodes are released. Also please take a minute to give us a review or comment. We love getting feedback from our listeners.

[00:18:15] Eddie Robinson: You’re listening to I SEE U. I’m Eddie Robinson, and we’re speaking with former Jersey school teacher and now author Tami Charles. Her latest book, We Are Here, with the help of illustrator Brian Collier, celebrates the rich history of Black and brown heritage and community. The book is a follow up to her New York Times bestselling picture book, All Because You Matter.

[00:18:35] Eddie Robinson: It’s an inspirational tribute to all the Black men and women throughout history, We’ve made momentous contributions from the beginning of time. Tami, give us some more insight as to, you know, what it was like growing up in Newark and, and how books played a huge role for you growing up and. Again, please shed also some light on what, from what my producer tells me, you’re a part of an R&B singing group. What was up with that?

[00:19:02] Tami Charles: Oh, no, he did not.

[00:19:04] Eddie Robinson: Yes, yes. What is going on there? What was the name of the group? What was the song that became a one hit wonder? And have you been in touch with other members of the group? Go!

[00:19:20] Tami Charles: That was like 20 questions in one. I’m going to start with the Newark question. So I was born, you’re funny, I was born in Newark, I was born in Newark. My, a large part of my family are from Newark. I was educated in Newark. My mom, as I said, was the teacher at my school. Growing up in Newark was awesome. You know, I, I had great teachers.

[00:19:47] Tami Charles: Many of whom I’m still in contact with to this day. I had a great experience in Newark. Great summers. I remember, I remember us busting open the fire hydrants cause we didn’t have pools, you know. We didn’t have pools and white picket fences and convertibles driving off into the sunset, but it was a good life.

[00:20:07] Eddie Robinson: There you go.

[00:20:08] Tami Charles: You know, if, if, if I was poor, I didn’t know it. I tell you that much because my, my parents worked very hard to give me a good life. So growing up in Newark was great. When I was eight though, my parents moved me out of Newark, but kept me in Newark schools. So I moved about a half hour away to a town called Roselle.

[00:20:29] Tami Charles: So it was kind of suburban. But I kept my urban roots by still going to school in Newark. I loved it. Now, does that answer the Newark question? Now I got to answer the singer group question. I was hoping that you’d forget about that. We could go do another.

[00:20:47] Eddie Robinson: I’m a music man and you know, I’ve got to find out what happened there. And there was a, and you also have a book, right? You know, um, What was the name of the book?

[00:20:59] Tami Charles: It’s called Muted.

[00:21:00] Eddie Robinson: Yeah, Muted, Muted, Muted, Muted, Muted. Yes, exactly.

[00:21:02] Tami Charles: Another book with Scholastic that I, that I published during the pandemic. So let me, let me just say this. My answer is going, I’m going to give you the tea, but it’s going to be a little guarded. I have to, because I have to protect. Them, my girls, them meaning the girls that I was in the group with. So let’s just say this. I was in this singing group before YouTube, before American Idol, and before Instagram. So you’re not going to find me.

[00:21:30] Eddie Robinson: That’s, Laura Walker, bless her beautiful heart as our producer. We’re both going crazy on the internet. What, when, where, why, how? Where is this group? Was it Jade? Ladies, so

[00:21:48] Tami Charles: Oh, Jade. No, so let me just say this. We had so many failed production and record deals. We never so I need you to, I need to get the, get the record straight that we, we never produced a full album.

[00:22:06] Eddie Robinson: Got it.

[00:22:06] Tami Charles: We had one song on the radio. I’ll tell, I’ll tell you. Which was the song. Um, what was the song?

[00:22:11] Eddie Robinson: Okay.

[00:22:12] Tami Charles: So do you remember Nas and Ginuwine had a song called Owe Me Back?

[00:22:19] Eddie Robinson: Yes. Shorty!

[00:22:20] Tami Charles: Oh me back.

[00:22:21] Eddie Robinson: Say what you like. you can back it up if you hold my ice.

[00:22:28] Tami Charles: Yes.

[00:22:28] Eddie Robinson: Yes. I don’t know the lyrics.

[00:22:31] Tami Charles: Me neither.

[00:22:32] Eddie Robinson: As you can tell.

[00:22:32] Tami Charles: My singing group did the callback of that song and it played on New York radio.

[00:22:49] Eddie Robinson: Got it.

[00:22:49] Tami Charles: So like East Coast, it wasn’t like this hit and then we had a music video. It played on BET at like four in the morning when everyone was sleeping, you know, it’s just one of those one time things. Did we get a chance to hear it on the radio while we were driving down the highway? Yes. Did we celebrate that? Yes. But did we ever make it to the top like Destiny’s Child? Who came to our school, by the way, it came Destiny’s Child performed at our school with Jagged Edge and that was right around the time where we were trying to come out as well.

[00:23:26] Eddie Robinson: And I bet you passed out. What happened?

[00:23:28] Tami Charles: Oh my God, I passed out. We were so excited, but I got to tell you in the 90s, it was like, that’s right. The market was so saturated with Black girl groups.

[00:23:39] Eddie Robinson: Yes.

[00:23:39] Tami Charles: So like, where would, where were we going to fit in? So it was hard, it was fun, it was a time, and I’m never doing it again.

[00:23:52] Eddie Robinson: It’s I SEE U. I’m Eddie Robinson, and we’re speaking with New York Times bestselling author Tami Charles. Her children’s books All Because You Matter, and We Are Here, celebrate the likes of Martin Luther King Jr. and Marian Anderson. The books honor the rich history of Black and brown women and men with amazing illustrations and inspired language. Tami, what happened in your life that really gave you the determination that you needed to motivate yourself to make a living out of becoming a children’s book author, right?

[00:24:25] Eddie Robinson: I mean… There’s something that had to have happened in your life that just really just said, you know what, this is, I gotta do this.

[00:24:31] Tami Charles: So I was scared. I was very, very scared to leave teaching. I’m grateful that I can do this work and still somewhat be a teacher because I do lots of school visits. I’ve visited schools all across the country and abroad where I get to share my love of writing and reading with kids.

[00:24:53] Tami Charles: And that’s all I want to do. Like, that’s my purpose in life. I discovered it late. But I’m so happy I discovered it, but I have to tell you, if I had to pick one person who outside of my students, because my students definitely encouraged me, but the one who was like, you got to do this was my husband. He was pushing me.

[00:25:17] Tami Charles: He’s like, leave, leave teaching. I got you. You, you need to give this a shot because what are you going to do? Wait until you retire at 65. When you should be chilling and so I’m like, okay, I didn’t do it at first though It’s hard to walk away from 14 years of family. Those kids were my kids. They were my children.

[00:25:42] Tami Charles: Now, now they themselves have kids and husbands and wives. And it’s also strange. It took me five book deals to finally have the courage to walk away and have the belief that I could do something with this writing thing.

[00:26:00] Eddie Robinson: And that sounds like… Rejection after rejection after rejection after rejection after rejection and then finally you had that moment where the doors opened up for you.

[00:26:12] Tami Charles: Oh yes.

[00:26:12] Eddie Robinson: And things really sort of brightened up in terms of this is really what you should be doing.

[00:26:18] Tami Charles: That’s exactly what happened. When I went to college, I thought I wanted to be a news reporter. Now, of course I wanted, I wanted my singing group to make it, you know, but after trying and trying and getting rejected, like you said, then I said, Oh, maybe I’ll try my hand at news reporting.

[00:26:37] Tami Charles: And then that didn’t work out. And my mom said, when I graduated from college, I’m going to give you one year to figure out your life. So, and then you got to do something. So AKA, you don’t have to pay me anything. You can live in this house for a year, but do something with your life. So I, so I, I said, you know what?

[00:26:57] Tami Charles: Let me just try substitute teaching because in this way, you know, I could go to work when I want if I can’t make it, I won’t be penalized and I could get a little money in my pocket. I did that and Eddie, oh my God, they, I was hooked from day one. He’s dag gone kids. I said, Oh, wow. I really like this. And next thing, you know, they were offering me a permanent position.

[00:27:21] Tami Charles: I had to take it because I loved it. I loved it. That’s how I got trapped for 14 years.

[00:27:30] Eddie Robinson: I’m wondering if you can share with us some stories or narratives about the obstacles that you’ve experienced as a Black children’s book author and you know, what the road was like they’re trying to write these stories for children of color.

[00:27:46] Tami Charles: So lots of obstacles. I gave you the, the, the numbers don’t lie. I mean, we’re at maybe 11 percent still in current times.

[00:27:55] Eddie Robinson: Interesting.

[00:27:56] Tami Charles: Obstacles. I got lots of rejections in the beginning when I was even just trying to find an agent. Um, but I, I will say this, I’m going to take a little bit of ownership for that because my early, early stories, I found myself writing about topics and things that meant nothing to me. I think that I was trying to write for the market. I was trying to write the types of stories that, okay, growing up, well, this is what I read and this is what sold. These perfect characters with their perfect homes and white picket fences and convertibles driving off into the sunset.

[00:28:38] Tami Charles: That wasn’t my life. Like I had a very different type of life, a beautiful one. Once I shifted from trying to write what I thought the industry wanted or what would sell. Once I wrote stories that meant something to me in my life, my family, my upbringing. That’s when I started to get interest. Now, that doesn’t mean that once I got my first yes, there weren’t any subsequent no’s because there was, uh, one in particular I mentioned, uh, Mary Fields being the first Black woman to deliver mail, which is a big deal.

[00:29:19] Tami Charles: And kids don’t realize, oh, you can just pick up your phone and go on Amazon and your, your package will be on your door in an hour in some cases. But it wasn’t like that in the late 1800s, early 1900s. Like, people had to risk their lives to deliver your mail. And that’s what Mary Fields did. When I wrote the story, we tried to sell it.

[00:29:42] Tami Charles: And we got a lot of no’s. And here’s why. Oh, well we’ve never heard of her. Oh, we’ve reached our quota of Black biographies for this year. There’s a quota? That was, that was my, my reaction was like, wait, no wonder we are only at 11 percent because you guys have quotas. There should be a quota. There’s lots of stories of, of course, I love Dr.

[00:30:14] Tami Charles: King and I, I do love those, those Black history pioneers that we hear about all the time. Dr. King, Rosa Parks. Great. Those are great stories, but we’re, we have more. So why not explore that and what kid can’t benefit from learning about a hidden figure that they’ve never heard about. So yeah, those are the obstacles that I’ve dealt with.

[00:30:38] Tami Charles: Um, and sometimes I still deal with them, but I’m just going to keep writing for these babies. Whether, you know, someone will say yes, eventually, if I push hard enough.

[00:30:52] Eddie Robinson: We’re chatting with you, Tami, while many of us, you know, do remember the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Do you think there will ever come a time where we achieve King’s dream of equality for all people? Or do you sometimes feel like, you know, this previous administration in Washington, D. C. possibly derailed the progress that had been made by creating a bigger platform for divisive attitudes and news to take shape, um, and grow even louder? What are your thoughts as it relates to King’s dream of equality for all people?

[00:31:30] Tami Charles: I think it’s possible. While I won’t really talk politics, I will say this. I think that the kids are going to be the ones to do it. The ones to do it. Not us. As we get older, we get a little set in our ways. That doesn’t mean that we can’t evolve as humans, and that we can’t learn from each other. But man, these kids, just, and I see it in the school visits that I do.

[00:31:59] Tami Charles: I really think that the kids are going to be the ones to fulfill Dr. King’s dream. I think we need to get out of their way a little bit. And, and if anything, give them books. Take me out of the equation as an author. I’m speaking as a human, a mom, and a former teacher. Let these kids read. Let these kids read books that fit the framework of what Dr.

[00:32:29] Tami Charles: Rudine Sims believes. Bishop wants, where kids should be reading books that, that are windows, doors and mirrors where they see themselves, where they can step into other worlds and learn about other cultures and, and abilities and backgrounds, the kids are going to be the ones to read these books. And realize this is the way towards the future. So yes, I, I believe in his dream and I think it’s totally possible.

[00:32:56] Eddie Robinson: Yeah, yeah, and I agree with you with that notion. But look, with children also having access. It’s a lot more information at their fingertips, right?

[00:33:05] Tami Charles: Oh, yes.

[00:33:06] Eddie Robinson: The digital spectrum, you know, and I know you’ve been going through this in your household.

[00:33:10] Tami Charles: Yeah.

[00:33:10] Eddie Robinson: What advice could you offer up to parents, even me, you know, as it relates to navigating instances of viral racial issues online? Should parents be transparent with their children or should they shield them from all this?

[00:33:24] Tami Charles: That’s a tough question, Eddie. And it’s. It’s, it’s funny that you ask because I’ve had parents ask me this and, and my, my main goal is like, as an author, I really don’t want to tell parents what to do in their house with their children because, Hey, listen, I talked about stubbornness. I’m not gonna let anyone do that with mine, but I do think, I think it’s worth listening. I think as adults. We should just focus on the listening to what our kids are thinking. The more we listen and the more we let them talk, we’ll get to the heart of the issue. Their hearts, what’s in their hearts, what’s on their minds.

[00:34:14] Tami Charles: I think it’s important that we give advice in a way that lets them develop their own opinion versus us pushing an opinion on them. I want my kid to be an independent thinker, a free thinker, and I’m just… A passenger on his journey to guide him where he needs it and to keep him out of certain situations. But I definitely want him to have his own opinion about the world.

[00:34:47] Eddie Robinson: Coming up, more with children’s book author, Tami Charles. We’ll gain some insight behind the title of her latest book. We Are Here and what we can expect from this acclaimed author in the years to come. I’m Eddie Robinson. As we wrap up our final segment of I SEE U in just a moment. We’ll be right back.

[00:35:14] Eddie Robinson: If you’re enjoying this program, please be sure to subscribe to our podcast. I SEE U with Eddie Robinson. You can hear all the past episodes and be notified when new episodes are released. Also, please take a minute to give us a review or comment. We love getting feedback from our listeners.

[00:35:43] Eddie Robinson: It’s I SEE U. I’m Eddie Robinson, and we’re speaking with former Jersey school teacher and now New York Times bestselling children’s book author, Tami Charles. She’s here to talk to us about her latest book. We are here. Um, yeah. Yeah. Ms. Charles, what was the significance of calling the book by this name? We are here.

[00:36:02] Eddie Robinson: I mean, I usually see these three words on a map, you know, telling me where to go, you know, right? You are here. We are here.

[00:36:09] Tami Charles: So at first the book was titled, We Are, and I titled it. We Are. We Are. Because. It was the response to what my son was seeing on the news. We are thugs. We are animals. Look at these protesters like, no, no, no, no, we are not.

[00:36:30] Tami Charles: Look at what we have done. Look at what our ancestors have done and created that all people get to benefit from. But the Scholastic team came back and they said, you know, we think that this title needs one more word to like really solidify it. And they are the ones who suggested here. And as soon as I said it out loud, We Are Here, I immediately thought we are here. We have always been here, and we are not going anywhere. Like, so when they, when they added the here, it felt powerful, it felt definite. And in the book, you will see all of the, the ways that, you know, validates that feeling that we are here. I’m going to show you a little picture here. That is Marian Anderson.

[00:37:25] Tami Charles: Okay. And there’s Dr. King, which my son loves to, you know, he’s still on Dr. King’s birthday. He, he likes to bake the cake and sing happy birthday. I love that. But in this, in this spread, I write our joy is the anthem of life heard on monument steps, opera stages, stadiums filled with thousands of faces. We were there for that our ancestors even our current people who are still living right now.

[00:37:54] Tami Charles: They were on those Steps listening to dr. King that what you know, that wasn’t so long ago.

[00:38:01] Eddie Robinson: Yeah, Tami and as you’re showing us the illustrations we’ll post video clips of what she’s describing on our social media Instagram and Twitter as well as on our show page. Yeah, Tami, please share.

[00:38:12] Tami Charles: So this book I’m just trying to really lay out All of the ways that we impact the globe here is a spread of, it looks like graffiti, but you see a DJ, you see people dancing in the back, you see.

[00:38:33] Eddie Robinson: Grace.

[00:38:34] Tami Charles: The word grace. So one of the facts about the book, it’s more, more so for the adults to know is that the child I lost, I would have named her grace. So when, when we talk about, you know, this book. Coming from conversations with my son, but also making me think of, well, what would I have said to my daughter? Brian took it to the next level and he put her name in graffiti with the illustration and you’ll see there’s a pink balloon I don’t know if you could see it.

[00:39:12] Eddie Robinson: Yes.

[00:39:12] Tami Charles: It’s that pink balloon is in the very first spread with the family of four and that pink balloon is Grace. And you see that pink balloon follow our, our main character. You see it follow her all throughout her journey. It’s that voice that reminds you, you are not alone. People have come before you. And dared to dream so that you could do the very same, but this this spread right here says we are intercontinental. Can’t you see with our strut and our style trendsetters, go getters. Swagger that sweeps across It’s the globe. Now, you know, people around the world are playing our music, wearing our fashions, eating our food and enjoying it. That’s joy. That’s one of many, many contributions that we have gifted the world. So this is what I mean when I say I wanted to change the narrative when my son turns on the TV and sees those hateful things. No, that’s not us. This is us. This is what we’re doing. This is our contribution and you can do the same.

[00:40:31] Eddie Robinson: Not sure if you’re open to this, but I’m hoping you are. But just briefly, what happened to Grace? What happened?

[00:40:39] Tami Charles: Hmm. I had a long journey with, uh, infertility and I do appreciate this question and I don’t mind answering it. I think fertility is like this silent. Killer, almost. It’s just like a tough topic. And if I’m being honest, had you asked me this question about seven years ago, I probably would not have been able to answer it without just crumbling into a puddle of tears. But I’m past that now. And in fact, I’ll say that writing this book was the healing that I did not know that I needed. So, I tried my very best to have another child.

[00:41:27] Tami Charles: Every time that I would get close or actually become pregnant, it was not meant to be. God had other plans for me. So, with the last loss, in my mind, she had a face, she had a name, she had a gender, and I was showing. I was ready to welcome her, but it just was not meant to be. And, uh, Losing her happened the day before Thanksgiving, and I actually was hosting, and wouldn’t you know, I went about my, my business like it didn’t happen.

[00:42:15] Tami Charles: I pushed it down. Covered it up. I had my moment. Um, my husband was there. My son was there. My son was very young and very confused. He didn’t know what was happening. All he did was see me crying, which made him cry hysterically. And then my husband was like, you’re making you’re making him nervous. So I had to push all of that down, compose myself and went to the turkey.

[00:42:43] Tami Charles: That was every holiday for me for quite a few years. I didn’t really deal with it until recent years, but who knows, you know, maybe, maybe my story will help someone. Maybe this book will help a mom. You know, I would love nothing more than to hear from a mom who had fertility issues, but then finally had her beautiful rainbow baby and brought this book for her baby.

[00:43:14] Tami Charles: That would be awesome. I would love that, you know? But in the end, I think that God had a plan for me.

[00:43:23] Eddie Robinson: Yes.

[00:43:23] Tami Charles: And I have the most perfect yet slightly annoying. Soon to be teenager son. He is gonna be 13 in a couple weeks. I am freaking out. I’m gonna be a mom of a teenager.

[00:43:38] Eddie Robinson: Ay Yi.

[00:43:39] Tami Charles: That’s why I said you’re gonna blink and your baby is gonna be 16 years old. Get ready.

[00:43:47] Eddie Robinson: And it’s interesting, you know, having the talk, but there’s also a moment and a component about the talk of infertility because it is such a hush hush sort of intense conversation.

[00:43:58] Tami Charles: Especially for Black women because we’re supposed to be strong and pick it up. There’s that. So it’s like, I didn’t get a chance, honestly, I didn’t get a, I really didn’t get a chance to grieve. I didn’t get a chance to be vulnerable. I just had to keep going.

[00:44:11] Eddie Robinson: Sure.

[00:44:12] Tami Charles: Cause it was Thanksgiving and the family was coming and I needed to finish the turkey and all the thick things. So it was like, there’s no time for this. I know better now though. You know, mental health is another thing that I feel like we don’t talk about enough in our community.

[00:44:28] Eddie Robinson: In our community, yes.

[00:44:29] Tami Charles: You know, again, these are like very adult topics.

[00:44:32] Eddie Robinson: Correct.

[00:44:33] Tami Charles: I write children’s books, yes. But I’d venture to say that my books are for people ages 0 to 99. There’s something in there, hopefully for everyone.

[00:44:44] Eddie Robinson: Yes.

[00:44:45] Tami Charles: A nugget of hope, a nugget of wisdom. Maybe you’ll learn something.

[00:44:48] Eddie Robinson: Yes.

[00:44:48] Tami Charles: Maybe you’ll go out and write your own story.

[00:44:52] Eddie Robinson: That’s true. That’s true. But with your last two books being connected, All Because You Matter and We Are Here, What’s next? What kinds of published material are we to expect from you moving forward? What’s going on there?

[00:45:04] Tami Charles: So, when I wrote All Because You Matter, it was like, okay, I said everything I needed to say for my baby boy. It’s out in the world. Done. Then the pandemic hit. And then he saw some stuff, as I mentioned. I said, oh boy, I’m not done. Right?

[00:45:23] Eddie Robinson: Right.

[00:45:23] Tami Charles: So then I wrote We Are Here.

[00:45:25] Eddie Robinson: Correct.

[00:45:26] Tami Charles: But something about writing we Are Here, it still didn’t feel complete. When you put together these two books, it says, All Because You Matter, We Are Here. But, to make this fully inclusive, where, like you said, what’s the way forward? How, you know, do you think Dr. King’s dream could Be fully realized, which I, I do. That’s when I knew I needed to write something. One more final book, the end of a sentence, the bow on a present, something that really, uh, gives us hope that we truly can come together, no matter skin color, no matter our background.

[00:46:14] Tami Charles: So the final book is a proclamation of unity and it is entitled United Together. When you put all three books together. It’ll make a complete statement all because you matter. We Are Here United Together. So that publishes with Scholastic in 2025.

[00:46:35] Eddie Robinson: Such a beautiful nugget. Thank you for that. That’s great. That’s great. As a former school teacher from New Jersey and seeing all that’s been happening, you know, with societal pressures and social awakenings happening with race and equality front and center through all of this. What would you say to politicians in states like Texas and in states like Mississippi that have chosen to go out of their way To ban inclusive books, to ban, you know, books for people of color. You know, have

[00:47:08] Tami Charles: And they’re not even reading these books.

[00:47:12] Eddie Robinson: Right.

[00:47:12] Tami Charles: That’s, that’s why I’m laughing. I’m not laughing at you.

[00:47:15] Eddie Robinson: No, but.

[00:47:15] Tami Charles: I’m laughing at, I I truly feel like the, some of these people who are like going to bat to ban these books haven’t even picked up the book.

[00:47:25] Eddie Robinson: Right.

[00:47:26] Tami Charles: Haven’t even read before you…

[00:47:27] Eddie Robinson: Go outta their way to do it.

[00:47:29] Tami Charles: Listen, here’s, here’s what I say in the face of these book bans, as for me, I’m going to keep writing because our kids need books that fit that framework that Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop preaches. She says books should be mirrors where kids can see themselves, windows where they can look into other worlds. and sliding glass doors where they can actually step into them.

[00:48:03] Tami Charles: When we deny kids access to these types of books, we’re denying their humanity. So, no, I don’t agree with book bans. I think that children should have access to all types of books that tell authentic stories. Not just trauma stories of Black kids. No. What about Black kids being superheroes? I’d love to read a story about a kid in a wheelchair who’s the hero of that story.

[00:48:40] Tami Charles: Let’s, let’s give kids of all types of backgrounds. Their stories so that they can see themselves and learn from each other. Do not ban books from kids. It denies them their humanity. That’s what I would tell politicians.

[00:49:00] Eddie Robinson: Last question, which I always ask our guests of all that you’ve had to endure your resilience, your perseverance, your writing, your work as a teacher, your life as a mom, and now a successful author. What’s been the biggest lesson that you’ve learned about yourself thus far?

[00:49:23] Tami Charles: Oh, this is a question. My biggest lesson I’ve learned about myself. I’m still working on this. Okay. Jesus is still working on me. Um,

[00:49:37] Eddie Robinson: Work in progress.

[00:49:38] Tami Charles: It’s okay to ask for help. I’m my own worst enemy. I need to do better. I’m trying to do better. I have learned that You’re not no one is a superhero in the sense that I could do all of these things all the time It’s okay to ask for help because typically when you do ask for help You’re also helping that person. So someone who’s helping you, that it’s like, um, you’re spreading light. and joy. So when I ask for help, they’re getting something twofold, threefold, and it’s okay to ask.

[00:50:24] Tami Charles: It’s okay to be a blessing to others and for, for them to be a blessing to you. I’m still working on it, but I’m getting better at it.

[00:50:33] Eddie Robinson: I needed this.

[00:50:36] Tami Charles: Ah, me too. And I made it, see?

[00:50:40] Eddie Robinson: Yeah.

[00:50:42] Tami Charles: I’m about to clap for myself because, look, you asked me a question that, if you had asked me that six years ago, I would have just closed the computer. Goodbye.

[00:50:56] Eddie Robinson: Yeah.

[00:50:56] Tami Charles: But I made it.

[00:50:58] Eddie Robinson: Former New Jersey school teacher and now New York Times bestselling author, Tami Charles, her latest book, children’s book. We Are Here celebrates the rich history of Black and brown men and women pays tribute to those individuals, especially remarkable leaders like the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Tami. Thank you so much for being a guest on I SEE U.

[00:51:23] Tami Charles: Thank you.

[00:51:32] Eddie Robinson: Our team includes technical director, Todd Hulslander, producer, Laura Walker, editors, Mark DiClaudio and Jonmitchell Goode. I SEE U is a production of Houston Public Media. Follow us on Instagram and Twitter, and subscribe to our podcast wherever you listen and download your favorite shows. I’m your host and executive producer, Eddie Robinson, and I feel you, we hear you, I SEE U.

[00:52:01] Eddie Robinson: Thanks so much for listening, until next time.

 

This article is part of the podcast I SEE U with Eddie Robinson

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