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Mentioned in the Episode:
Athletic Greens (Free One Year Supply of Vitamin D + 5 Travel Packs)
Epic Will (Use promo code BTB20 for 20% off)
BetterHelp (10% off your first month)
Jamie Grace on Instagram: Look It Up (Black Hair Edition)
Connect with Dorena Williamson:
Connect with Be the Bridge:
Connect with Latasha Morrison:
Host & Executive Producer: Latasha Morrison
Senior Producer: Lauren C. Brown
Producer, Editor & Music By: Travon Potts
Transcriber: Sarah Connatser
Not all views expressed in this interview reflect the values and beliefs of Latasha Morrison or the Be the Bridge organization.
The full episode transcript is below.
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Tandria Potts 2:47
You are listening to the Be the Bridge podcast with Latasha Morrison.
Latasha Morrison 2:52
[intro] How are you guys doing today? It’s exciting!
Each week, Be the Bridge podcast tackle subjects related to race and culture with the goal of bringing understanding.
Latasha Morrison 3:02
[intro] …but I’m gonna do it in the spirit of love.
We believe understanding can move us toward racial healing, racial equity, and racial unity. Latasha Morrison is the founder of Be the Bridge, which is an organization responding to racial brokenness and systemic injustice in our world. This podcast is an extension of our vision to make sure people are no longer conditioned by a racialized society but grounded in truth. If you have not hit the subscribe button, please do so now. Without further ado, let’s begin today’s podcast. Oh, and stick around for some important information at the end.
Latasha Morrison 3:41
Hello, Be the Bridge community! We have an exciting guest for you to hear from today. You may have missed this, but a few years ago I was able to interview someone on Facebook, a Facebook live before we had the podcast. And we were interviewing her about some children’s books that she was launching – Dorena Williamson. And I am so glad to have her on on this call. Not only, first of all her name, every time I say her name Dorena, I always think about my grandmother’s name, Doretha.
Dorena Williamson 4:18
Latasha Morrison 4:18
It’s so close, you know? So that always reminds me of you. And I’m so glad that you’re here. And I’ll just, you know, just so those of you who have never heard of Dorena, if you’re hearing her for the first time I want to give you a little information about who she is. She’s a speaker. She’s a best selling writer. She’s a church planter and a bridge builder, whose work has been featured in Christianity Today and Crosswalk. She writes stories that celebrate all colors, build cultural bridges (she’s a bridge builder), and her stories motivate lesson change for children and their parents. She’s written several books works called ColorFull, ThoughtFull, Gracefull – just brilliant. I love all of it. She and her husband, Chris, have four children. And so we’ll give you more information about how you can find out about her work, and where she lives, and all of those things. And I am so happy to have you Dorena!
Dorena Williamson 5:21
Oh, well, I feel so honored to share a name with your grandmother. That is, I’m gonna hold that as a very, very precious connection. We were both named very well.
Latasha Morrison 5:33
Right, right. So I’ve just, you know, we met let’s think about it. Okay. So we met several years ago at the Justice Conference, right?
Dorena Williamson 5:43
Latasha Morrison 5:44
We met. You didn’t think I’d remember that, do you? (laughter)
Dorena Williamson 5:46
I did! I was sitting there going, okay. Well, I mean, I know we’ve had so many points of connection. And I love that I was on Facebook live with you before, I feel like I was back in the preliminary stage of the, cause you didn’t have the podcast. I was back in the olden days, whatever those are. (laughter)
Latasha Morrison 6:09
Be the Bridge is so young. And when we say stuff like that, we’re like, “Oh, yeah, that was three years ago.” (laughter)
Dorena Williamson 6:15
It wasn’t that long ago. (laughter)
Latasha Morrison 6:19
I think we’re about to turn six as a whole. (laughter) But at the very beginning stages of Be the Bridge some of the first, I would say pioneers of people who started Be the Bridge groups. When I would travel, I went to the Justice Conference and we met out what some people who were doing Be the Bridge groups and or interested in doing Be the Bridge groups, I want to say we met up at Panera, Panera Bread.
Dorena Williamson 6:50
Yup, we did. We sure did. And I was so honored to meet you.
Latasha Morrison 6:56
Yeah, and it was like, I was thinking when I went there I think I was thinking that it would just be a handful of people. And it was like, I think about 25, 30 people there. Maybe I’m dating myself, it may have been five. No, I think it was over five. But I know it was a full table of people, tables of people. And I was just really taken back. I was really surprised. And I think that was the first indication to me that people are really doing this. People are actually putting action behind their words. They are leaning into this conversation. And I remember meeting you because it was like, there was a lot of our beautiful sisters, our white women sisters. And then there was just a few, a handful of like people of color there. And I remember you. And yeah, and I think we’ve stayed in contact since then in some kind of way.
Dorena Williamson 6:58
Yes, that’s exactly right. That’s right. That’s right. And I remember being so excited when that communication went out in the Facebook, because Facebook was the form that was everything was sort of going, and I just remember being so happy.
Latasha Morrison 8:09
Yup. Yeah, we were using Facebook groups.
Dorena Williamson 8:11
Yup, yup. So yeah, yeah. And since then just been sharing a lot of the work.
Latasha Morrison 8:14
We still use that, by the way.
Dorena Williamson 8:15
We do. It still has value. (laughter)
Latasha Morrison 8:17
We still have the Facebook group. It still has value. I tell you, it’s a battle though. It’s a battle. But we still use that because at the beginning stages of this organization this is how we grew, this is how we communicated. You know? Now we have other means of communicating. But I’m so glad to know you. And I was in Nashville, I forget, I think maybe a year…and it was right before the pandemic I think. And I was able to eat with, have lunch with you and your husband.
Dorena Williamson 8:54
Yes, yes. That’s right.
Latasha Morrison 8:57
And you guys have since moved. You guys are church planters, as you say. You’re church planters and you have since moved from Nashville to Franklin. Right?
Dorena Williamson 9:06
Well actually we’ve lived in Franklin the entire time, but our church started in Franklin and then moved to Nashville about eight or nine years ago. So…
Latasha Morrison 9:15
Oh I had it backwards.
Dorena Williamson 9:18
…and it’s all in the Middle Tennessee area. So church is about 25 minutes from home. But yeah, we’re grateful to be in the greater Nashville area now and just continue to welcome people from all around middle Tennessee and virtually from around the world.
Latasha Morrison 9:35
Wow. So when we first met neither one of us were authors at that time. I remember you talking about writing some children’s books at that Panera Bread. And you have done that. This I think is your fourth book. Is this your fourth?
Dorena Williamson 9:50
This is actually number five.
Latasha Morrison 9:51
Oh number five!
Dorena Williamson 9:53
Latasha Morrison 9:53
I’m just getting all the information wrong. (laughter) So congratulations on number five. It’s called Crowned with Glory.
Dorena Williamson 10:00
Latasha Morrison 10:01
And so we know what that one is about. And those of you, this is about hair. And this is a big subject. You know, like, I know we’re coming out of Black History Month, but you know, as I tell people, I am Black 365 days of the year. So I am not limited to one month to talk about any history pertaining to my people. Ok? (laughter) And particularly to my interests and all of that. And our history is also American history. There’s no comma in that. So, I am so excited about Crowned with Glory. Okay, what inspired – you see, I’m gonna ask you this question, what inspired you, but I know what inspired you. Because it’s lived experience. (laughter) You know? But for the audience, you know, for those of you who are listening, Crowned with Glory, some of you may feel like, “Oh, we’ve heard this a lot, we’ve heard.” But listen. This is a much needed conversation, because we actually, we’re going to talk about this about policy. You know, because kids are still getting suspended because of their natural hair. And so what inspired you to write this book?
Dorena Williamson 11:20
Well, this book was, as you said, inspired by my lived experience. I have three sisters and a brother. And then I’ve raised three daughters and a son. And one night, I was wrapping my youngest daughter’s hair at night. And she’s now 18. So it’s been a few years ago, when you know, mothers help their daughters wrap the hair at night. Make sure that head wrap is on tight so that the braids.
Latasha Morrison 11:46
So we wrap it. It’s kind of wrapped like so, you know. So if you’re in a different context, besides African American, you know how sometimes you brush, help your daughter brush out the tangles in her hair, you know, when they’re younger. We wrap our hair. So that means so it’s smooth, we wrap it around, and we put like a silk scarf on our hair to maintain the moisture. So go ahead.
Dorena Williamson 12:14
Yes, that’s absolutely correct. And depending on like if we’re wearing a short hair cut, we may wrap it and actually be wrapping the hair around our head. You know, literally wrapping the hair kind of in a circle depending on the length of the hair. And then we put that headscarf around it so that in the morning, we can take the headscarf off, and then gently almost don’t even have to comb it and almost just finger our hair back down and our style is is still smooth. Since we don’t have to wash it every day.
Latasha Morrison 12:41
Dorena Williamson 12:41
So again, as you took upon Tasha to just unpack for our majority race brothers and sisters or people of any race who don’t understand the the cultural context of wrapping hair at night. You know, I’ve included a spread about that in the book. Because what this story does, first of all, is give us Black girls representation with a girl celebrating her beauty, celebrating her hair all throughout her life journey from the time she’s a baby until she grows up and goes to college and lives out her purpose. She celebrates all of her unique hairstyles. But a book like this is also intended to give people outside of our Black cultural context a window in, so they can see, “Oh, this is what you do at night. Oh, okay. So you’re you’re braiding your hair when you swim so that, you know, that keeps your style intact and keeps you from having to be limited to ‘oh, I can’t get in the water because, you know, what am I going to do about my hair.'” And so you know, back to the origin of the story, it kind of started the seeds when I was wrapping my daughter’s hair when she was young and I was just thinking of her hair was straight and I was wrapping it to keep the style. But then my hair had short natural curls. So I just started thinking of all the diversity in my Black family with my children. And we got weave, we got braids, like we got it all, and all the colors and everything. And yet we rock our beauty; we rock the beauty that God has given us. And I just was thinking about how Psalm 8 says that were crowned with God’s glory and so I wrote down just a few thoughts that night. And then over the next few years more ideas came and I just sort of tuck them away and developed some rhyme and then just at the right time, during the pandemic I need to add, the Lord opened up the door with Waterbrook to take this message out.
Latasha Morrison 14:37
Right. And that is my parent publishing company, Waterbrook, which is one of the houses of Penguin Random House. So yeah, so we’re book sisters kind of like. (laughter)
Dorena Williamson 14:51
Latasha Morrison 14:54
So yeah. I’m so glad, you know. Even when you said you drew on the scripture in this. Because for so long we can think, I can remember recounting back, you know, playing with Barbie dolls and not wanting the Brown Barbie dolls because their hair at that time, I’m dating myself, but I had Brown Barbie dolls but their hair was like a little afro right? And so you couldn’t comb through it, you know, like the other dolls. And little girls, we love to have the Barbie hairs and comb hair and stuff. And a lot of that has changed. But I just remember, always, you know, feeling, because of our hair, feeling a little inferior. You know, to and this is our natural hair. This is the way our hair grows. Like for me, what I always say, our good friend Amena Brown always says, “You can’t tell a Black girl how to Black girl.” You know? We’re gonna Black girl with natural hair. We’re gonna Black girl with wigs. We’re gonna Black girl with stitches. We’re gonna Black girl with natural. We’re gonna Black girl with relaxers. We’re gonna Black girl with dye. All kinds of stuff, you name it, we can do it. And we’re gonna Black girl with locks. You know? There’s no limit to, we are so versatile, like our hair can do so many things. And none of it is wrong. You know?
Dorena Williamson 16:21
Latasha Morrison 16:21
And so there’s not one way. And so we always say you can’t tell a Black girl how to Black girl.
Dorena Williamson 16:26
Say it, say it. I love it.
Latasha Morrison 16:28
(laughter) So don’t tell us how to wear our hair. And so, when you’re thinking about that, it’s like a reclaiming. You know? Would you agree to that?
Dorena Williamson 16:37
I absolutely would agree to that. And, you know, the responses to this book that have really drawn me to tears have not only been from little girls who say, you know, “She looks like me.” The girl on the cover is a beautiful chocolate girl with her natural hair. But I’ve had, you know, friends who have mixed race daughters as well, whose complexion may look different, but they see in this little girl on the cover, they see her joy, and they see hair that’s got a bushiness to it and they see themselves. And that has been so sweet. Because I wanted our girls to have that rich representation that…it’s getting better. You know, we’ve got amazing books like Hair Love, and so many others that are celebrating our beauty. And we’re grateful that the market is shifting and is growing and giving us more representation. But what’s also drawn me to tears, because this book also includes our faith and is sourced from God’s truth that he speaks over us in Psalm 8 that were crowned with his glory. So I’ve gotten some really emotional messages from women. And they are telling me that this book drew out emotions. That they cried. That, you know, one girl said, “My mom sent this book to me,” and she’s an adult. And she said, “My mother sent it to me. And I’ve been struggling with my hair and my identity. And this book came at the right time. I needed it.” And I was like, “A children’s book!”
Latasha Morrison 18:11
Dorena Williamson 18:12
But it reminds me of the power of story and the power of the words that for some of us were spoken over us or to us, maybe casually when we were children, but they stuck. And decades, three, four, or five decades later, we’re still grappling with how we view ourselves when we look in the mirror because of the things that other people said about us that took root though, like seeds, and they grew up to things that weren’t healthy. And so it’s an honor, but it’s humbling to see the effect of this little children’s book on adult women as well. And I just give glory to God for that.
Latasha Morrison 18:59
Yeah, yeah. Do you have the book with you, Dorena? Do you have nearby?
Dorena Williamson 19:03
I do, I do.
Latasha Morrison 19:04
Would you read? Would you mind reading a little maybe passage out of there? You know, especially when you’re talking about like how this book is speaking to adult women, a children’s book. Because there’s sometimes trauma that we hold and memories that we hold that are not pleasant from comments. You know, it’s like all these little micro aggressions that are out there. I have a goddaughter and her hair is a little, her hair is more curly because her mom is half Asian. And so she just remembers you know, in school, you know this little girl telling her like, “I know you’re glad your hair isn’t like other Black people.” And she was like, and she was probably around 11 or 12 at the time, and she had enough sense to say like, “That’s not a compliment. That’s not a compliment.” And, you know, and so I think is some of those things where if you don’t talk about it with our kids, and not just kids of color. But like if white people, if you don’t talk about differences in diversity, and you know, with your children, they’re going to be cued either by you, or by society, to think these things, because we live in a racialized society. And so and with that racialization there are hierarchies. And so even if you’re not telling them that they’re better than you know, someone else, because of the way they look, or the way their hair looks, society is telling them that, media is telling them that, social media is telling them that, and so you have to cue them in a different way. And so that’s just, you know, just something. So you think about that comment that was made. And just think about all the comments that are made over time, and that just that can fracture your very soul and your identity.
Dorena Williamson 21:23
Let me read this line from the book. This is, for people to give them a visual, this is on a spread in a beauty shop. And again, my goal was to give for us representation of our experiences, but it’s also helpful because this is giving people who may have never been in a Black beauty shop, this is what it looks like when we’re in there.
Latasha Morrison 21:47
Dorena Williamson 21:48
So it says, “Bantu knots or twist-out fun, a beauty puff in a textured bun. Reflections of culture all around – such glory in creating beautiful crowns.” And then there’s another spread where I say, “The Creator crowned me with melanated glory, and every day I get to live out my beautiful story.”
Latasha Morrison 22:19
Oh, man, that is so beautiful! Oh my goodness. Oh, my goodness. And I can remember like that’s a part of our just life experience and journey. I know every Black person doesn’t have this experience. But I remember because, you know, I had a mom who she wasn’t the best at doing hair. You know, she know how to do ponytails and different things like that. But she was also a working mom. And so she would, you know, send me to, I went to the beauty parlor like really young, to the salon. And so I can remember going to the salon as a young girl. And I know that another friend of mine just wrote a book called Wash Day, Tomesha. And so you know, just chronicling you know what that is like. So what was that like with your own kids? Did you have that experience of the salon? Or did you wash, I think you said you had three daughters, did you wash their hair yourself? How did you like kinda pour into them that their hair is beauty and they were crowned with glory?
Dorena Williamson 23:29
Well with my girls, and my son. So my son is the oldest. So you know, for him it was a different experience because you know, he was going and getting his hair trimmed and it was kind of a father son thing with Chris. But when my oldest daughter was born, she has a very, a finer texture of hair, but she had a lot of hair. And so you know, Saturdays were my hair day and I realized, with that first daughter who inducted me in, that I was not a good hair mom. (laughter) It’s just some of us grow up and we’re the auntie or the cousin that does cousin’s hair. You know, I have a cousin like that. Yeah, but that wasn’t me. (laughter) I’ll read to the kids. I’ll do all kinds of fun things with them but I wasn’t the one that did hair. But when I had my own children, that daughter sort of it was like, it was like my like, “Ding ding ding. This may not be your skill set, Dorena.”
Latasha Morrison 24:27
(laughter) I know. All Black people cannot braid. All of us cannot braid. I can barely plait. (laughter)
Dorena Williamson 24:37
I can plait. I can do a mean French braid. But I’ve tried to plait and it just. So I would do a lot of twists and I would put little bands at the bottom and we would do all kinds of you know fun barrettes and bows and whatever she like. We go to the store and just you know, she could shake her head from side to side and all the little bows would clink, and she loved all of that. But Saturday was our hair morning. So we would watch the Disney movies, whatever was at least two hours long because I needed something that would keep her still. Right? And then I had another daughter and her hair texture was a little bit coarser, but she didn’t have as much hair. So I was like, okay, I’m trying to work here. I’m still trying to manage it. And then we got another daughter. And she was our preemie and didn’t have a lot of hair because she was born extremely early. And so by the time, so my husband was there like praying, like, “God, please help our daughter’s hair to grow because she doesn’t have a lot of hair.” Right? And God started answering that prayer. And then I was like, “Are you still praying for her hair to grow? Cause I can’t manage anymore. I need to stop praying because I can’t.” (laughter) So then I realized, my hands are full. You know? So then it was just this humbling thing of okay, I got to humble myself and outsource. I got to ask and find somebody who can braid and. Because then by this time, the older kids are getting to swimming age and you know, with a son it’s not as big of a deal because we can condition, but with daughters.
Latasha Morrison 24:40
Oh, man, that will mess our hair up that chlorine.
Dorena Williamson 25:20
And my husband, I grew up learning to swim at summer camp as a young girl, but my husband grew up in the city with a traditional Black mama who was scared of the water. And because of the history, you know, for people who don’t know the history.
Latasha Morrison 26:16
Dorena Williamson 26:16
For our culture where a lot of our mothers were afraid of the water because not only did our parents not have access to swim, but if there were pools that they could swim in, people didn’t want Black kids swimming with the white kids. And there’s a whole difficult history around that. So my husband didn’t grow up swimming, and he battled fear of the water as an adult and didn’t want our kids to have that mantle. So we lived in a neighborhood that had a community pool. And so I just was like, you know what. I need to get my girl’s hair braided in the summer. It will make it easier for me. I can condition their braids. And then they can swim. Whenever they want to swim, we can go swim, and we don’t have that limitation of, “Oh, mama isn’t good with hair and it’s gonna take me five hours to do it. And so you can’t swim.” You know? So you know that, as a parent, you go through that journey of wanting to teach your children that they are beautiful and worthy of honor the way they are, that they don’t need to compare themselves to their their white counterparts or of another race, but that their beauty is beautiful. But in that, mama, daddy, auntie, grandmama, whoever is raising them has to be capable of helping to take care of their hair. So you know, maybe this is gonna free a Black mama who feels like she’s got to be superwoman. Sister, if you are not a good hair mama, it’s all right.
Latasha Morrison 27:36
Dorena Williamson 27:36
I’m sure you’ve got many other things you do well, and if you are not great at fixing their own hair, there are other people who will be blessed by those funds. Or maybe you can barter something else. But I just started to do that. Let other people help braid and things like that, so that my girls could enjoy their culture and their style. And then I was not spending a million hours doing hair and giving them Tylenol and taking Tylenol. (laughter) Cause they’re screaming. I’m frustrated. You know, it’s just become a whole day thing. So a lot of that is poured into the book. You know, when I show again, the spread of the beauty shop, we would go. They didn’t go every week, but they would go for special occasions to get their hair done. And that was a big deal. And learning to put a little gel on the edges. You know, again, getting braided for swimming, getting a special style for picture day
Latasha Morrison 27:38
And for Easter. (laughter)
Dorena Williamson 28:20
And for Easter, you know. And so all those things that. And then later on, she gets a weave and she’s rocking all. So my lead character Azira is rockin all different, literally every spread she’s got a different style, because as you said, we can do so many fun things with our hair. And we have so much creativity that God has crowned us with, that we deserve to enter into that to tap into it. But also, Tasha, let us not be remissed and not mentioned that we also are worthy of respect. And so I included a spread where Azira has a friend who’s reaching her hand out to touch her hair because friends are curious. And they see our hair has changed. And they want to understand, maybe, or they just curious, they want to touch. And so Azira is putting her hand out like, “No ma’am.”
[Latasha Morrison sharing an ad for Epic Will] Hi, friends. I just wanted to interrupt this conversation real quick to share about another one of our incredible partners, and this is Epic Will. For those of you who don’t know, I lost my father unexpectedly last year and so I have lived this and the benefit of this firsthand. You know, when we think about some of the things that we go through, you got to plan for some of the biggest reasons you need to have a will. And this is where the comes in. Like you know, when you are buying a house or getting married, these are things you have to think about. Epic Will is one of the easiest and most affordable ways that I know that you can make sure that you’re covered. It’s easy to think that I don’t need this stuff right now. I just want you to know that a will gives you advanced directives so that no one you love has to make tough medical decisions on your behalf. And I think that is very powerful. And as little as five minutes and for only $99, you can create an early estate plan with Epic Will. So go to EpicWill.com and use promo code BTB20 for 20% off. Again, that’s EpicWill.com. And because you’re a Be the Bridge listener, you get a promo code that is BTB20 for 20% off. Get some peace of mind today with Epic Will.
Latasha Morrison 30:56
No ma’am. You will not touch me.
(laughter) And there’s videos on this. But this is the thing. When you don’t have, when you’re not in proximity and you’re not in relationship, and you’re not in these conversations. As much as we talk about this. I mean, there’s TV shows that talk about it, there’s commercials, you know, there’s all kinds of memes and all of that, people still miss it because people live in these like homogenous bubbles. And it’s just always surprising when people are still doing that. If you don’t have a relationship with a person, if you’re not friends with that person, then you shouldn’t be touching their hair. And it’s just so, it’s just baffling to me how that happens. I was watching something earlier this week of Jamie Grace, she’s an artist, a singer. And she is, I follow her on Instagram. And she is so funny. She’s a great mom. And I remember her music when she was a teenager. But she’s also still producing. She’s so creative. But she just did a song about touching, not touching Black women’s hair. And it’s so catchy. And so I’m hoping that Travon is gonna put a clip in there, just so they can hear it. But I mean, she’s actually, you know, like talking about this. “If you have questions about about a Black woman’s hair, just Google it.” And it’s like this little catchy rhyme and it’s so funny.
Dorena Williamson 32:28
I think I saw that. I think I saw it. I love that.
Latasha Morrison 32:32
Because it really others us. It others us.
Dorena Williamson 32:35
Latasha Morrison 32:35
But you know, I’m always just as many questions as you have for me, you know, I got questions for you. Like, you know, cause I really thought just about every white woman, like they had naturally blonde hair. I didn’t realize that they were all dying their hair. (laughter) And just like you have different textures of hair, then we have different textures or hair. Or, you know, just think about the Latinx community, just the, I mean, just the diversity just in hair, just in that community alone. And so we’re all living with just beauty, you know, that how God has created us all so different and called it good. And so I’m glad that you’re reconnecting children back to God’s story about who they are and how beautiful they are. You know? Because we’re all created in this image. And so I think that’s important in that. There was one thing I was, you know, when you talk about representation and children’s literature, I was reading this friend of mine had sent this to me about something that’s happening, this trend that’s happening in Great Britain. And I don’t see it here as much, but I think it’s something for us to watch out. Because people get exhausted, you know, like, people could get fatigue about, you know, about Blackness. We hear, you know, now the the talk against what wokeness means. But you know for us, wokeness means understanding who we are and who’s we are and our history. You know, but that that that phrase has been attached to a lot of things. But in this comment, this is concerning, and they said 23%, there was a 23% drop in Black characters in children’s best sellers since 2020. This is in Europe. And they said that as the Black Lives Matter publishing boom phase, there was a 31% decrease in the percentage of children’s best sellers written by Black authors from 2020 to 2021. Meanwhile, there was a 17% increase in the percentage of best sellers for white authors. The largest increase in the last 10 years. I haven’t seen that trend here. But it is always concerning. But because I am seeing so many books stateside, you know, like your yourself that are addressing issues in our community, helping people to learn and to educate, to live in this multi ethnic world, you know, books teaching about culture. Especially for children, because, you know, children are not born racist. They’re not born racist. They are cued by their society and by the things that are happening where they embrace those racial biases, but they’re not born that way. What would you say about that? Do you see an increase in Black representation in children’s literature from your perspective?
Dorena Williamson 35:59
I am seeing that increase. And I will also very gently say, I’m seeing an increase not in just having white people who feature Black characters, but us being able to tell our stories. So again, I am able to write a book called Crowned with Glory about Black girl hair because it’s my lived experience.
Latasha Morrison 36:22
Dorena Williamson 36:23
It’s my sisters and my brother and my family and my children. And so that’s not to say that people who are not Black cannot. But there is a difference of featuring Black characters versus writing from this is my lived experience. Like, when I talk about this, those struggles, I have walked through those. I have parented through those. I have walked through those in my family. And so I have seen an increase. And it makes me glad, because I know, and I know you know this, that there are so many who’ve come before us who have labored, who have been having those conversations behind the scenes, who’ve been trying to shine a light, and it’s not been acknowledged or deemed as worthy or valued. The value word I think is really the key. That our voices weren’t equally valued. We existed, so we’ll put a little complimentary one or two of us out there, but you know, to know that we are valued. And when you, you know, give an author a publishing contract, and you say, you know, “We want to release this work.” And in my case with this book, you know, I had the privilege of having a Black editor who came to Waterbrook at the same time I was signing on as an author. And then that Black editor when she read this manuscript, and knew she would work on it with me, right off the bat, Bunmi said, “This book will absolutely have a Black illustrator, because we have to have someone who shares our culture to illustrate a book about Black girl hair.”
Latasha Morrison 37:06
And that’s the sustainability right there. What you just said.
Dorena Williamson 38:06
Yes, yes. And it’s landmark.
Latasha Morrison 38:09
At the table. Yeah.
Dorena Williamson 38:10
It has been such a joy for me, because when I had my first art direction meeting with my editor and with the illustrator and with the Waterbrook team, the first thing that illustrator said, and she’s Canadian, shout out to Shellene. She’s just an amazing, gifted illustrator. And she said to me, “When I read the manuscript, it felt like my story.” And that just filled me Tasha. Like, it was honestly an emotional moment, I was trying to hold it in. Because I, you know, was excited and wanted to be professional, and I’m newly signed, and you know, all the things. But I’m wanting to like, can I call off the camera for a minute and have a cry and come back on because the woman who’s gonna bring this story to life and bring images for children, has said that she feels like this story is her story. And so I knew that it was going to be special. And so I hope that it continues, you know, I hope that there are more Black editors who are given opportunity to acquire the work. Because we’re out there. You know, I think of Black authors all the time and writers who have wonderful stories, you know, that they are just waiting to have the opportunity to share with the world. And so you know, it’s going to take more editors and more people in the sales and marketing and the the entire publishing team who will not have those biases, but who share the culture and share a longing to see that representation. So it’s growing. Yeah, I’m grateful for those who are doing the hard work, but I also give honor to those who did it before we, before yours and my books are out there who’ve been shining the light and speaking out like John the Baptist in the wilderness. Shouting, “Can we get more representation?”
Latasha Morrison 39:55
Dorena Williamson 39:55
And I think it’s just an honor you and I have to be now a part of answering those prayers and the work that they did.
Latasha Morrison 40:03
Yeah, I think, you know, I’m gonna say this because I know those who are listening, a lot of people who are listening to the Be the Bridge podcast, they’re on a journey, on a learning journey of educating themselves or trying to grow in this, whether they’re, you know, a white person or you know, or a person of color. But when we say, you know, one of the key things you said about hiring a Black editor, and it’s not hiring a person, just because they’re Black, but hiring a qualified person that is in that role where you’re dealing with a system that, too has been, you know, has had systemic issues related to race, the publishing world. Just like every other system that we have, the publishing world is no different from that. And so in order to, you have to do something different in order to get a different outcome. So if we want to see more books. You know, people make up systems and people are broken and we’re fractured. And we see through, you know, a lens of, a racial lens of stereotypes, there are racial prejudices that people have. And so you take that into the workplace. And so people are attracted to things that is a part of their experience, that is a part of their story that they can relate to. And so if you have mostly white people in these roles of editor and illustrator, you know, when it comes to now, here’s a writer that’s writing a Black book, they don’t identify with that. They don’t understand it. They don’t see the market for it, because if you live in a homogenous community. But until you step outside of that and bring someone in that has the lens, that has the perspective, that has the experience to say, “No, I know several communities that want these books. These stories need to be told.” And not just that we have a lot of parents who have transracial adoption, that are trying to learn and trying to grow and trying to teach their kids. And so this becomes a tool and an asset for them. So I don’t want people to think that when people are hiring, that is something that’s taken away from white people. And first of all, that’s kind of like a racist ideology, when you think that something is when something has actually been given as it relates to being equitable, or equality that it’s taken away. The world has taught us to really skew that type of thinking, where this is all actually making place, so that all may flourish. You know? This is about making it right. Where it should have been a more inclusive world, and how God has created us equally, we have created systems, that elevate some and that diminish others. And so what we’re now doing is making that right, making the room more equitable, and that doesn’t feel good to a lot of people, especially if you’re used to your voice being at the top. And now your voice is mixed in with everyone else’s voice. And so I just wanted to say that, you know, as you were explaining that, because I think that is going to be the key to publishing where we don’t see a decrease is if that in these roles that you put people that look like the world, the diverse world that they represent, if you put these talented people in those roles, so that we are getting an array of books.
Because I remember growing up, you know, I didn’t have books like this, you know. (laughter) And just imagine when our parents grew up, they didn’t have things like this, you know, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Judy Blume, like all these things. And now, you know, your book goes from, I think, what four to eight, four years old to eight years old? You know, but then there’s that next group of, you know, when you start getting into the preteens or pre adolescent. My godson, he’s 10. And so now trying to find books for him, where he could see himself and where there’s representation. It matters. And there’s not as many in that. So there’s room for growth. And so I am glad that publishing companies like Waterbrook they’re actually – and Waterbrook is not paying for this. (laughter) They’re not, you know, but they’re just one example of something, you know. And they’re one example that they’re doing something, they’re putting action to their words. And there’s a lot of them. I think of IVP books and, you know, some different ones. But yeah, so I don’t want see a decrease. Because we don’t need to go backwards, we need to go forward. Because we’re dealing with the millennial group, which is the most racially diverse group. And this group now outweighs, you know, outnumbers the baby boomers. And so that’s something you know, you think about that very diverse group and their children, you have the Gen Zers. And we’re getting more diverse, we’re not getting more homogenous. And so, you know, so if you’re looking at it, you know, if you’re, if you’re a numbers person, and a data person, it’s not just, it’s the bottom line to where you look at over time, what’s gonna sell? But also, it’s the right thing to do. You know? It’s the right thing to do. So, how can you how can parents encourage children, to as to celebrate the differences in others, you know, because we know, sometimes mean, things are said in school. And so, you know, you’re writing books that’s affirming to all children, even children with special needs. In a lot of your books there is inclusion of that. Why? How do you think, so it’s two questions? How do you think parents can teach their kids to celebrate the differences? And why do you make an effort to make sure that your books are not just racially inclusive, but also as it pertains to children that have special needs?
Dorena Williamson 46:42
Well, I’ll try to hit both questions with one broad answer. And that is that I believe that we are all image bearers of God. And I believe then that we should foundationally be teaching that to our children. You know, obviously, parents are the first teachers and the primary teacher. So, you know, as my children were first moving about and I’m lotioning their skin, I’m complimenting the beauty of their brown skin as I’m putting that moisture on it, I’m just reminding them of how beautiful they are. You know, when I’m fixing my daughter’s hair, and they look at themselves in the mirror, whether it was Afro puffs, or long twists with clincky barrettes, or braids, or weave, or whatever, I’m affirming to them. And so, you know, for parents, how do they teach that? They teach that by practicing what they preach, by remembering that children are listening. So if they hear you watching the news or talking about people groups in a certain way. You know, we’ve all seen the funny videos of their that are funny, but not really funny of a kid repeating cuss words or repeating stuff that we go, “Oh, my gosh, well, they’re listening.” So if they hear you over here degrading certain people, they’re listening to your phone conversations, they are picking up what you are speaking. So you know, this is, you know, bringing the aunties and uncles and the godparents and the grandparents, all of us who are influencing children, which is pretty much everyone, whether it’s in our neighborhoods, our families, or in our faith communities, many of us are teaching in children’s ministries, and were high fiving kids and asking them how they’re doing. So I would just encourage the parents and those who influence remember that our words matter. And that’s where books are a wonderful and warm companion, because books come alongside and help. As you read a book like Crowned with Glory with your Black children, but also, please read it with your white children so that they look at a book that, for the most part does not include their cultural context, but it’s good for them because they’re seeing the normality of Black culture. And so when they are spending time with their Black friends, it’s not strange, they’re not othering them. They are part of community together because they’re reading about it in stories. So it’s not unfamiliar, it takes away that, “Oh, they’re different. And it must be bad.” You know, as humans, we automatically assign often that negativity does something that’s different. So instead, teaching your children from the time they’re young, that different is good. It’s different. Their body may work differently; their body may look different than yours; their mind might work differently as we try to unpack learning challenges. And that’s good. They’re not less than you because their body or their mind works differently. They are gifted by God just like you. And in fact, God made them that way. And again, everyone’s story looks different. You know, I was inspired with ThoughtFull by my nephew who has Down Syndrome. And so if I believe Psalm 139:14 that every one of us is fearfully and wonderfully made. My nephew is not exempt from that. God didn’t accidentally give him that bonus chromosome. You know when he was knit in my sister’s womb, God intentionally and carefully and lovingly designed him with that bonus chromosome so that he could glorify Him the way that he does. And at 14, my beautiful Josiah, absolutely, that boy rocks that bonus chromosome. And he loves God’s glory, and is one of the most delightful humans you can meet. And through ThoughtFull, he has inspired kids around the world to appreciate those differences. So I make that effort, Tasha, because it matters, because we’re made in the image of God, and because we have opportunity to really shape these young hearts and minds through literature, through the word that we speak over them, and the way that we introduce them to the people around us in the world.
Tandria Potts 51:05
Wow, incredible insights. Don’t go anywhere. We’re gonna pause for a quick moment, and we’ll be right back.
[Latasha Morrison sharing an ad for BetterHelp] This podcast is sponsored by BetterHelp online therapy. A lot of us will drop anything to go help someone we care about. We’ll go out of our way to treat other people well. But how often do we give ourselves the same treatment? Are we looking out for our personal selves? Do we invest in ourselves? And there’s ways that you can invest in yourself through therapy, coaching, self care, listening to your own body, working out. These are ways that we take care of ourselves. So this month, BetterHelp online therapy wants to remind you, that you matter just as much as everyone else does. And therapy is a great way to make sure that you show up for yourself. Just like we do checkups, sometimes we need to do check ins with a therapist. And I find this very helpful. And I find this as an outlet for myself personally. BetterHelp is an online therapy that offers video, phone, and even live chat sessions with your therapist. So you don’t have to see anyone on camera if you don’t want to. They make it easy for us. They take out the awkward. It’s much more affordable than in person therapy. And you can be matched with a therapist in under 48 hours. Talk about even saving gas by doing it online. Give it a try and see why over 2 million people have used BetterHelp online therapy. This podcast is sponsored by BetterHelp and Be the Bridge listeners get 10% off their first month at BetterHelp.com/BeTheBridge. That’s B E T T E R H E L P.com/BeTheBridge. So make sure you remember to take care of yourself. In the midst of all your busyness, take time out for you.
Tandria Potts 53:11
Thanks for staying with us. Let’s get back to our conversation.
Latasha Morrison 53:15
See I love it. You know, and I think that’s the way we have to look at this. It’s an opportunity for growth. And just imagine, you know, walking into a classroom, walking into a Sunday school room, or walking into a community center, and you’re seeing books that represent the community at large. And even if you live in a community that is more homogenous, you still can represent the world in your literature. You know? You can bring the world to your kids through literature. And I think it’s an opportunity to teach and grow and to help this next generation be better and do better and to really honor all of God’s creation. And so I think, this is really exciting, you know, the things that I’m seeing. I was just recently talking to a friend that’s in Colorado, and she was saying how she’s, she’s a white mom, and she buys her daughter, you know, different books and her son different books and diverse toys. That’s one of the things we teach at Be the Bridge as bridge builders you want to integrate their play. And so even when there’s you know, not real life people around, there’s ways that you can do that. And so she bought her daughter different color Barbies and doll babies and she noticed that her daughter was only playing with the white ones. And she was just, you know, just watching for a couple weeks, she would only play with the white ones. And she would just leave the other ones. So she decided to play with her daughter one day. And she said, “I want this one.” She picked up the Brown one. And every time she will play with her daughter, she always wanted the Brown one. And then eventually, her daughter mimiced that behavior and started playing with the Brown one. You know? And I think that’s just something, that’s parenting. You know? And it’s not like, you know, there’s not a whole bunch of people around them. But she wanted to model that in what she does and how she communicates. And I think this is a way, the books that you’re writing are tools where people can model that. You know, these ThoughtFull and GrateFull and ColorFull and GraceFull. And first of all, are there going to be more in this series? Of the Full series? (laughter)
Dorena Williamson 55:57
Right now, no. And I won’t ever say never. But that wasn’t a three book contract deal for those. But I, you know, with Waterbrook Crowned with Glory is the first of three. So.
Latasha Morrison 56:09
Dorena Williamson 56:11
We got several more coming.
Latasha Morrison 56:14
So there’s more to come. Okay.
Dorena Williamson 56:16
There’s more to come. So just taking those messages and putting them in new stories. Yeah, I have, the one I’m really excited about this fall, in September, is called Brown Baby Jesus. And so it is a Brown, a beautiful Brown Jesus with wonderful, bushy hair. And he, it is the Christmas story. It’s the Christmas story, but it is the multi-ethnic family of Jesus.
Latasha Morrison 56:46
Wow. Love it.
Dorena Williamson 56:47
And so it is saying to children, you know, it’s giving them a new narrative and what I believe is a correct narrative of what Jesus looked like. And you know, I think Dante Stewart just put up a week or so ago, a Life Magazine as you and I are recording this, they have put out this new you know, a new new magazine that featured the blondest, whitest. I mean, just, it’s like he gets blonder and blonder. And I’m not shading any of our family members who are blonde, this is absolutely no shade to you at being blonde. But however. Like for real? Like, Palestinian Jewish Jesus, blonde? Like he just gets blonder and blonder.
Latasha Morrison 57:31
Yeah. And we have to understand where that depiction comes from.
Dorena Williamson 57:34
That’s excactly right. That’s exactly right.
Latasha Morrison 57:35
But we love to embrace lies, we love to embrace lies. And we say it doesn’t matter, then I’m like, “Well, if it doesn’t matter, then depict it in the right way.” (laughter)
Dorena Williamson 57:45
Well, that’s what I was talking to my parents about that last night. And I was giving them a sneak peek of a cover. And I believe in a few weeks that Waterbrook will release the cover. You know, there’s always particulars about the timing the cover releases.
Latasha Morrison 57:57
Dorena Williamson 57:57
But, suffice it for our listeners to say, he has a beautiful Brown. But as I was talking to my parents, I said, you know, I know, I can already hear the chorus of white people saying, “Why did you portray him brown? It doesn’t matter.” And my answer will be, “Did it matter before you saw my depiction? Because all of a sudden it doesn’t matter when he’s Brown. Because to you the default has been white Jesus.” And so, you know, the heart of the book is truly to share scripturally that, you know, we’ve got Rahab and Ruth and Bathsheba and Tamar. These Hamitic women who were God designed them as part of Jesus’s story. And to really highlight that his story is not just the nativity that we look at, but it included these women and included widows and people with pain. He came from all of us because he came for all of us. So I’m excited. But you know, I got my game ready, because I know. I know how people are.
Latasha Morrison 59:00
Dorena Williamson 59:00
And I know that all of a sudden, folks are gonna be agitated when they see a beautiful, you know, chocolate Jesus. And yet he’s the savior for the whole world. So I’m excited, excited to bring that forth.
Latasha Morrison 59:15
I mean, you know, like, okay, so Jesus is for real. But you know how people get even when it comes to Santa Claus. So I’m gonna be praying for you, sister. (laughter)
Dorena Williamson 59:28
Oh, yes ma’am. We know, we know Santa Claus. Nevermind that so many of them don’t know the story of the origin.
Latasha Morrison 59:38
Exactly. Saint Nicholas.
Dorena Williamson 59:38
Saint Nicholas and where it came from. So can we teach our children that because that’s even more important than Santa?
Latasha Morrison 59:46
Dorena Williamson 59:46
But yes. But you know, Tasha, I’m just trying to be obedient to what God has called me to do.
Latasha Morrison 59:51
Yes, I love it. I love it.
Dorena Williamson 59:52
Life is short. You and I were talking about grandparents before we came on. And you know, my 95 year old grandmother is reminding me in her Twilight season that, you know, I have to fulfill the call that God has placed on my life. And I am not doing it focused on those who will have problems. I’m a preacher’s kid, and I’m a First Lady. So I know, church people. I know God’s people. I know our families have a lot of jacked-upness. And we have so much brokenness. And yet, I know that when I look at the faces of these beautiful children, when I get to do school visits or visit with churches and look at these kids, they’re wide eyed, and they’re eager, Tasha, and their hearts and their minds are ripe for shaping. And if we’re not filling it with God’s truth, that he’s declared over them. And if we’re not giving them images that are life bearing, that are healing, then there are narratives waiting to fill their hearts and minds. And so I would employ people beyond supporting my books to just give great care to what they’re adding. And go to the library. You know, if your finances don’t allow you to do a lot of purchasing. You know, libraries are doing better at stocking. I’ve had people reach out and say that they’ve seen my books in libraries. So they’re stocking books, even faith based books. And beyond our faith.
Latasha Morrison 1:00:24
Dorena Williamson 1:01:02
Just books that tell great stories of people in history, you know, the people we know, well, and those stories deserve to be shared that are getting that due. So you know, give great care to our libraries. And if you have the means to buy books for your kids, buy extra for children’s birthday parties and for shower gifts and give them to your churches. Lord knows so in our houses of God…
Latasha Morrison 1:01:44
Dorena Williamson 1:01:45
…kids can pick up books as they’re having their free playtime and even as teachers are shaping lessons. I have a You Version devotional connected to Crowned with Glory now that people can find on on the Bible app. And so you know, there just are becoming more and more tools, Tasha, and it makes my heart glad because it’s just coming alongside our parents and are adults and saying, “We can give our kids a better way and here are tools that will help you. They won’t do the work for you.” And you advocate for that at Be the Bridge. You have to do your work, you can’t wait for other people to do it for you. But these tools come alongside. So I would just implore folks to support that. And let’s just be really intentional about about shaping those, those little hearts.
Latasha Morrison 1:02:28
Right. Right. And I love giving books as gifts, and to my little cousins and to friends’ children. And I just recently, a friend of mine just had a baby and I brought some books of course. You know, I’ll go and see what’s out there and what’s new. And you know, and I was so glad when I went to the baby’s room, that the baby, there was such a great representation already, that people had given diverse books. So this, you know, this work of bridge building is really working. It’s helpful and beneficial for us all. And I, you know, even my little cousin, I, for Christmas, always give them a couple books. And I gave one of my little cousins one about Latinx history because I think that’s important. You know, although she’s African American, I still want them to know the history of other people, too. And, you know, those contributions that have come from that community. And so I think that’s something also within our community to make sure that we’re educating our children on the, just the, just on all BIPOC. You know, understanding the Indigenous community and all of those things because we can become insulated and only understand our culture and our way. And just like we should know what the world looks like outside of America, and how other people groups live and languages and all those things, I think that just makes us better and more whole as people. So, I’m so grateful for your work, you know, Dorena, and I’m so grateful for all that you’re doing and how God is using you and all that you’re doing. And like this has been a quick work for you. You know, this has been a quick work for you because like we met just a couple years ago, you hadn’t written one book, and now there’s five. (laughter)
Dorena Williamson 1:04:36
Well, it has. It reminds me to be careful what you pray for. And that’s not to limit ourselves with prayer. But you know, I always think about those who’ve come before who were laboring long before my books showed up in the world and it keeps me in context and make sure that I walk out this calling with with humility. But you’re right, it has been quick. It’s it’s like, okay, I was praying and laboring and waiting and crying out to God and burdened with the stories I wanted to share. And then literally, all of a sudden, God opened up the door. And I was able to do those Full books. And then we had a pandemic, and I was in pause mode again of, “Okay, Lord, now I’m at another juncture of waiting.” And so you know, it’s just those cycles of, you’re waiting, you’re preparing, you’re doing that good work behind the scenes. You know, like, it’s March now and we’re beginning to start seeing bits of budding, but during those winter months it looks like nothing is happening, because it’s cold and it’s barren. But there’s all kinds of work going on under the surface that’s preparing for the fruitful season. And I feel like that’s been my my story. And I will just encourage those who are doing that good work, that may not be published or may not be known, that the goal isn’t for other people to know who we are, it’s to be faithful in whatever it is that God has called us to do. And please keep going. Keep on doing whatever that good work is building bridges. Because God will get the increase whether you’re called to plant or you’re called to water, you know, God is going to get the increase from the good work.
Latasha Morrison 1:06:27
Dorena Williamson 1:06:27
And I’m just grateful to get to be a part of it. He’s doing it, like you said, all over the world. And I just want to one step at a time, keep putting out these good seeds.
Latasha Morrison 1:06:39
Well, we’re so grateful for you. We’re so grateful for just the work that you know, that you’re doing. And just for being a bridge builder. And I’m so glad that our paths have connected and, you know, it seemed like we’ve been on this journey together, you know, just with book publishing and just all of the things. And so, you know, I’m so grateful to have you as a friend of BTB. And that we can bring your story and your content to the greater community. So thank you so much for sitting down with us, you know, but before you go, I want to say, you know, I always ask this question of what are you lamenting? And then what are you hopeful for? And so as we end, what is something that you’re lamenting? And then what is something that you’re hopeful for?
Dorena Williamson 1:07:36
Well, as you and I are recording this, I am spending time with my grandmother in her twilight season, and we just had a very emotional conversation this morning about how children don’t always feel valued. And my mother took me aside later and said, “You know, she was talking about her own story.” And it just, it made me want to go sit and just weep. Because at 95, you know, she’s reading my book Crowned with Glory, but she’s also remembering decades before when she didn’t feel valued. And so I lament that any child in this world is questioning whether they have value, whether their life is worthy. That fills me with sorrow. And it also fuels me to be a part of giving them work that reminds them that they are valued not for what they do, not even for what they look like, Tasha, but they are valued because God created them. And they bear his image. They are crowned with his glory. So I lament that so many of us have stories that that are filled with feeling unworthy. I lament that. I lament that for myself and for everyone who’s listening. Because truly, we all can unpack that we’ve journeyed through that. But I also am filled with hope. That if we truly understand that God has declared us crowned with his glory, that we are lovely and beautiful for who we are. Not for what we do, but for who we are. And hope that I can just help spread that message.
Latasha Morrison 1:09:19
Yes, love it. Well thank you so much.
Dorena Williamson 1:09:23
Thank you, friend.
Latasha Morrison 1:09:23
We love you. And so wishing you the best! Okay?
Dorena Williamson 1:09:27
Thank you, sis. Love you.
Tandria Potts 1:09:33
Go to the donors table if you’d like to hear the unedited version of this podcast.
Thanks for listening to the Be the Bridge podcast. To find out more about the Be the Bridge organization and or to become a bridge builder in your community, go to BeTheBridge.com. Again, that’s BeTheBridge.com. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, remember to rate and review it on this platform and share it with as many people as you possibly can. You can also connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Today’s show was edited, recorded, and produced by Travon Potts at Integrated Entertainment Studios in Metro Atlanta, Georgia. The host and executive producer is Latasha Morrison. Lauren C. Brown is the Senior Producer. And transcribed by Sarah Connatser. Please join us next time. This has been at Be the Bridge production.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
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