Author gives girls something to dream about
Last updated 2/12/2020 at 4pm | View PDF
Ainsley was excited about a book she brought home from school the other day - "Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History" by Vashti Harrison.
She said she recognized the cover, as I had given her another book in the series - "Little Dreamers: Visionary Women Around the World."
Both books, designed for kids, are visually appealing, with the women drawn by Harrison as little girls so readers can identify with them. I confess I find the books just as enticing as Ainsley does.
The stories of notable African-American women are particularly poignant this month, which is Black History Month. In fact, it was during a Black History Month project one year that the seeds of the book were planted. Harrison set the goal of illustrating one African-American woman from history each day of February and posting the image, along with notes on the woman's accomplishments, to social media.
"As I researched and read amazing stories of women both known and unknown, I was surprised to be moved so deeply," Harrison wrote. "As a black woman, I have studied the history of my people, but never have I felt this connected to the beauty and passion behind their boldness.
"Whether they were fighting for their families or for social justice or daring to become an artist or an astronaut, each one of these women broke barriers for those who came after her."
Reading through the index, I recognized a number of names from history class, like Ida B. Wells and Rosa Parks. I spotted the names of authors whose works I've enjoyed - Zora Neale Hurston and Gwendolyn Brooks and Maya Angelou. A number of other names were familiar as well - singer Ella Fitzgerald, TV journalist Gwen Ifill, gymnast Dominique Dawes, sprinter Florence Joyner and - of course - Oprah Winfrey. But that left more than two dozen individuals I knew nothing about.
The amazing women she writes about and illustrates were lawyers, poets, teacher, artists, chemists, pilots, filmmakers, nurses and even a Civil War spy. I learned about pioneers like Rebecca Lee Crumpler, who became the nation's first African American woman physician in 1864. And Katherine Johnson, who skipped seven grades and went on to work as a research mathematician for NASA, helping to calculate the flight path for the first mission in space. And Marcelite Harris, who became the highest-ranking woman in the Air Force and the highest-ranking black woman in the Department of Defense when she was promoted to major general in 1995.
Ainsley's favorites are Phillis Wheatley, a slave who became a poet, and Alma Woodsey Thomas, a teacher and painter. In her introduction, Harrison says she created the book with her younger self in mind.
"I think about what kinds of dreams I might have had if I had known about all these women when I was growing up, if I'd known that so many people who looked like me had done such incredible things," she writes. "To be able to see yourself in someone else's story can be life changing."
She dedicates her second book "to anyone whose ideas have been called impractical, idealistic, grandiose, whimsical, imaginative or crazy. To anyone who dares to dream big."
I'm sure those words have been uttered to plenty of white men and boys.
But as we honor Black History Month and prepare for Women's History Month, I find myself focusing on the challenges African-Americans and women (especially African-American women) have faced as they pursued their dreams.
How wonderful that Harrison offers up these examples for daughters everywhere - including my own.
- Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean. Readers can email her at [email protected]