Creators of Justice Makes a Difference: A Writer’s Interview

Dr. Artika Tyner, Esq. and her mother, Jacklyn Milton, are co-authors of the new children’s book, Justice Makes a Difference. The book follows Justice, who learns through her grandmother’s books and stories that she can make a difference in the world.

Kathryn Schleich: Both of you are educators and clearly that is a part of your mission with Justice Makes a Difference. Tell me about your goals.

Dr. Tyner: The book amply demonstrates the value of literacy, education, and cultural awareness, while promoting leadership development. This book is also an opportunity to make learning fun and educational. But mother thought the first draft read like a Ph.D. dissertation.

Jacklyn Milton: Justice did start out like a dissertation, but I love the results of the book. The activity book will also be something kids enjoy. The workbook is coming out in July 2018.

KS: How did you come up with Justice’s story?

JM: My daughter loves to ask questions, from a young girl to the present. Through our talks, I brought back memories to Artika when she was younger. I am proud of the fact that my daughter loves me and listens to me when it matters.

KS: Who is the grandmother portrayed in the book?

JM: It was my mother who inspired the character of Justice’s Grandma. Her name is Nellie Lightfoot. My mother was a very special woman to me and my family.

DT: Justice Makes a Difference is based on my experiences, a.k.a. Miss Freedom Fighter, Esquire and built upon the wisdom of my grandmother, Nellie Lightfoot, who impressed upon me the importance of service in the community. Through conversations with her grandma and their shared love of books, Justice learns about the important women and men who changed the world.

KS: Artika, on your website there is a quote about the lack of diversity in children’s books and one of the purposes in writing Justice is to address this. What ideas do either of you think will increase the numbers?

DT: Its purpose is to offer a product addressing a compelling issue, the lack of reading material geared to youth of color. As the Cooperative Children’s Book Center notes, in 2014 more than 3,500 children’s books were published in America, only nine percent of them by diverse authors and a mere 11 percent focusing on characters of color. Through the power of entrepreneurship, we create help to change that.

The success is in the power to create, because when you create you change the narrative, as in diversity in children’s books and the publishing industry. That power of entrepreneurship transcends race.

KS: One of the most important things for me was learning about figures of change such as Dr. Wangari Maathai, Charles Hamilton Houston, and Ella Baker who I had never encountered before. You note that some of the figures were chosen because of the influence they had on your life. How did you choose the figures Justice would learn about from her Grandmother’s books?

DT: I chose the figures in the book based upon some of the historic figures who have influenced my life. Each represents a dimension of my work: legislative advocacy [Shirley Chisholm], writing as advocacy [Ida B. Wells], community organizing and civic engagement [Ella Baker], and lawyer as leader [Charles Hamilton Houston].

The potential of American history was a gift to share through the book’s unsung heroes. Additionally, with Justice we are creating community, which we need more of. There is community wherever we can thrive and transform.

KS: There are so many influential figures in Black history that I’m wondering if either of you have thought about a series of books as Justice grows up and learns to make even more of an impact?

DT: This is only the beginning! Stay tuned to learn more about Justice’s leadership journey.

KS: Your goal is to hand deliver 1,000 copies of Justice Makes a Difference around the world and build a global learning community by challenging ordinary people to embark on the journey of leadership development and serve in the global village. This is a huge undertaking!

DT: Miss Freedom Fighter, Esq. is based on how my grandmother inspired me to be a change agent. Grandmother had a very clear message.  By becoming a lawyer and civil rights attorney, I’m living my grandmother’s dreams. Students are often motivated to create change, but feel they are too young or have no power. This book is designed to show young readers that they can make a difference no matter what their path in life may be and the importance of believing in themselves. Justice dreams of becoming a change maker too – “Miss Freedom Fighter, Esquire,” a superhero with a law degree and an afro!”

KS: The concept of people serving as leaders and change agents seems to be more important than ever in these difficult and frightening times. Do you have any resources for people interested in being those agents of change?

DT: Over the years, I also published a blog series entitled Profiles of Courage, which provides a profile of each of these leaders.

This in keeping with a lifelong dedication to social progress that has been characteristic of my career, including writing The Lawyer as Leader: How to Plant People and Grow Justice (American Bar Association Book Publishing) and The Leader’s Journey: A Guide to Discovering the Leader Within (ABA Books).

KS: How can people help you to achieve your mission of distributing Justice Makes a Difference even beyond 1,000 copies?

DT: This is a completely grassroots effort. With each purchase of the book, the proceeds will help fund the efforts to spread literacy, and the message that we are stronger together than apart. The outcome of what we can do collectively is unmatched. We can increase diversity in books and offer educational opportunities about American history. Justice isn’t just about Black History Month, but a part of U. S. History each and every day.

KS: I understand Justice has some big travel plans.

DT: Justice visited Ghana in January. Justice is in other parts of the U.S. and Cuba. She still has to travel throughout Africa to Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and Liberia.

KS: The book is beautifully illustrated. How did that come about?

DT: A principle part of the production process and primary cost is contacting noted illustrator Jeremy Norton, who states at his website, “My work reflects my experience of being a child growing up. The essence of what I do is in the mood and emotion; of joy, adventure and discovery, universal feelings that most people share when they’re young. I want to portray that sense of wonder in the world.” Additional funds from the sale of Justice will be used to cover curriculum development, production, and printing.

KS: What are some of your other goals with Justice?

DT: The hope is that we really inspire an interest in literacy, learning, and leadership development. Young people are the future. History has shown us that students have been at the forefront of social change movements whether it be the Freedom Riders of the past (who fought against racial segregation) or the Dream Defenders of our present (who fought against Stand Your Ground laws). Children’s books can aid in equipping students for this important leadership role.

Rolling Out spoke with Dr. Tyner about her recent trip to Ghana. Check out the interview below in which she shares her experiences.

Why are you taking books to children in Ghana?

I would like to sharthe gift of education with children in Ghana. Education opens the window of opportunities. Imagine a little girl who dreamed of becoming a lawyer. The odds were against her since she was the first in her family to attend college. Further, she did not have the financial means to pursue her educational goals. She overcame these roadblocks and became a civil rights attorney, educator, speaker, award-winning author, and entrepreneur. This is my story hence I can attest to the transformative power of education. Education provided me with the tools to make a difference in the global community. This journey began with reading. Through books, I have traveled the world from the coast of Ghana to Table Mountain in South Africa. Books also served as a source of inspiration.

What are your goals for young scholars? 

My goals for young scholars are to inspire them to lead and advance social change. I begin each discussion with the scholars by raising the question: “What is in your hands to make a difference in the world?” By raising this question, there is both a challenge and an opportunity.

  • Challenge: The scholars can explore how they will leave the world a better place than when they found it.
  • Opportunity: The scholars explore how they can leverage their gifts and talents for the betterment of society. This reminds them that young people are the future. I believe they will define the moral conscience of our nation. They have the power to move us closer to the essence of unity beyond the restraints of black or white, or rich or poor to the higher moral ground of freedom and justice for all.

Dr. Artika Tyner has also written The Lawyer as Leader: How to Plant People and Grow Justice (American Bar Association Publishing, 2014). 

Jacklyn Milton is the author of Family Whispers of Love: Cherished Memories with Recipes (Planting People, Growing Justice Press LLC, 2016).

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