BeBe Noir Publishing || Reenergizing Black Literacy

John D. Crooks

 

  1. What inspired you to start Bebe Noir Publishing?

A lack of children’s books in the marketplace for children of color. In 2014, The New York Times had a piece about this titled, ” Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?” Of 3,200 children’s books published in 2013, just 93 were about black people! Why weren’t these books being made? I knew our children wanted to read them.

“Black achievement is not a fabled unicorn”

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  1. How important is it for Black children to see relatable characters in children books?

I believe that it is absolutely crucial for black children to see themselves reflected in the world that they live. Until I travelled to Africa, I was not aware of how they have a unique perspective that we don’t have, their aspiration and struggle plays out a bit different than ours. I visited Kampala Uganda and Johannesburg, South Africa during my stay in Africa back in 2004. The first thing that I noticed is that everybody from the President to the Parliment and down to the women selling haircare products on the billboards look like our children, that is major! At a certain age, our children start to seek the standard of beauty and excellence and measure up to where we fit.

 

African children KNOW they can be ANYTHING, they just worry if their family can pay tuition, not if they are smart enough or ‘OK’ as a human being. Black achievement is not a fabled unicorn in African society as it seems to be in America among the mainstream. Examples for African children are plentiful, as hundreds of thousands of business owners, corporate executives, heads-of-state operate in excellence in every sector, in every city in every country on the continent. The books at Bebe Noir Publishing show our young people that they can achieve. That they are beautiful. That they should have heroes that look like them and stories that they think are engaging and funny. This builds self-esteem and the expectation that they should be represented in the world that they live in. Stories that represent the best that is in them should be available and they should accept nothing less.

 

  1. What are some of the adversities you face trying to self-publish your books?

I think that one of the biggest problems facing any new self-published author is developing a following and managing that following through social media, there is no way around it nowadays. There are a lot of good books on self-publishing but like any business, it is driven by sales. It’s difficult to make sales without key relationships and generous advertising budgets.

 

  1. Tell us a bit about your journey (school, jobs, etc)

I am originally from Detroit, MI. Like many people in the city, I grew up in a really rough neighborhood. I was one of the few from my neighborhood to attend an elite college-prep high school. Early on, I had a passion for creative writing and I enrolled in an African-American writer’s appreciation class that expanded my concept of literature and introduced me to the work, the life and the struggles of the greats such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni and James Baldwin. It spurred me to develop my own writing voice and style.

 

“Have a plan. Comb through your plan 100 times, look at it from all of angles. Have several contingency plans. Research. Strategize. Revise.”

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After I graduated high school, I went to the Air Force and served my country and started volunteering with youth and the idea of a being a children’s book writer budded. I worked as a mechanic for the greater portion of time after that, traveling internationally as a defense contractor and living in Kuwait City, Kuwait; Masirah Island, Oman; Thumrait, Oman and Kabul, Afghanistan. I saw elementary school aged children in Afghanistan too poor to attend school and were up at 6am helping their parents work. I wondered what their future would be like if they had access to education, in a country with a 70% illiteracy rate. These life experiences pointed me to an interest in where I am now and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

  1. What advice would you give young people interested in this type of career path?

My best advice is concentrated down to six nuggets:

  • Only you can beat you or hold you back. If you are challenged by your own past choices, you still have options. If you’re smart enough to make somebody else rich at your day job why not yourself? Create your own job. Everybody is an opportunity.
  • Seek to the be the best at what you do and be willing to put in the extra time necessary. And for everything you absolutely can’t master, put together a team that can.
  • Have a plan. Comb through your plan 100 times, look at it from all of angles. Have several contingency plans. Research. Strategize. Revise.
  • The money will come, don’t get hung up on that. Focus on perfecting what you’re doing. People will throw money at you when you have a good idea but people do not throw good ideas at you when you have money.
  • Be determined, have a do-or-die attitude on everything you do for yourself and your business. Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Ignore rejection, but listen to critiques on your work and your product, contained in them are the seeds of future success.
  • Read inspirational books on success that help you develop a successful person’s mindset. The truth is that million dollar ideas are hitting you in the face daily but without a changed mindset they look like challenges, failures and restrictions. I recommend, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Think and Grow Rich.

 

  1. What is the top goal you are currently working towards achieving? How do you plan to accomplish it?

 

The top goal that I am working to achieve is for the commercial success of my first three book series being released by my imprint Bebe Noir Publishing (www.facebook.com/bebenoirpublishing) and the three book series that I am developing under my other imprint for comic books and graphic novels, Nappy Comics (www.facebook.com/nappycomics). I look forward to developing these series, growing my brand and connecting with my fans and supporters. The road to success for me lies in building relationships and producing the best product I can.

 

Ultimately, as a charitable action, I seek to give away 1 million e-book downloads for children worldwide in at-risk communities in 2017 and 2018 to combat childhood illiteracy. In this day and age, it’s a gift that I can give as one man that can touch the world.

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