It's approaching one o'clock and Central Library, the Headquarters of the Atlanta Public Library System, is abuzz with activity. Finishing touches are being applied to display tables and people are quietly strolling in. Grinning joyously, Kisha Mitchell, commences the launch of her debut picture book, Brown Girl, Brown Girl, What Do You See? It was a pleasure to attend the book launch and have the opportunity to meet and interview Author Kisha Mitchell.
How did you develop your love of books, reading, and writing?
I didn't have a TV in my room until I was nineteen. As a kid, I read to pass the time. I read such series as Goosebumps, The Baby-Sitters Club, and many others.
Who is your favorite author(s) and what is it about their worth that stick with you?
Jodi Picoult because she writes about real life scenarios. Maya Angelou because her voice is raw, authentic, and speaks to me. She has been my biggest inspiration as an author. Alice Walker is another favorite. Her book The Color Purple has stayed with me.
What is your favorite motivational phrase or saying?
It is a saying by Maya Angelou, "If you get, give. If you learn, teach."
What drew you to education?
I knew since the first grade that I wanted to become a teacher. While in college, one of my professors stated, "What you do for free do as a career." At the time, I was coaching a basketball team of 11 and 12-year old girls, tutoring college students, and started a free tutoring program. My father tried to convince me not to go into teaching after the Columbine shooting and a murder-suicide at my high school. To appease him, I tried mass communications and other things, but anything outside of education was not a good fit for me.
How did your girls group SISTER (Sharing Intelligent Solutions to Everyday Reality) morph into Girls Inspired Inc. and a book?
I started SISTER in response to observing the way middle school girls interacted with each other and their lack of direction. When I switched school systems, I was unable to take SISTER with me, but the program was still on my heart. My anger upon learning that my three-year old daughter had been told that her brown skin was ugly was the catalyst that propelled me to act on God's nudging to continue working with young girls; but this time it would be community based which led to Girls Inspired Inc.
What, if any, are the differences you've noticed between the way girls interact/carry themselves today compared to when you were growing up?
I grew up with a lot of love from the women of the church. The church mothers and the ladies of the church lifted us up. Mothers now have self-hate projected on them daily. The media constantly sends out the message that it has to be about your body for you to be important.
How did you come up with your title?
The title is a spin-off of the popular children's book, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?. Engaging with middle school students on a daily basis provided an exclusive viewpoint into their emotional parameters. Far too many children are being told things early in their lives that affect their self-worth causing them not to love themselves. I began to think what could I do to counter the manner in which they viewed themselves. What do I see when I look at the mirror? So, I thought a children's book would be a good starting point for conversation and a way to start planting seeds. Maybe what I wrote from my upsettedness will help another child. To be honest, when I wrote Brown Girl, I was dealing with my daughter's incident, but also issues from my school years as well. I was the only black girl in my high school classes and I didn’t get braids because I didn’t want anybody to question how it worked.
Did you ever aspire to write a book?
I thought about it, but it was by accident. My father always encouraged me to write due to all of the stuff I've seen and gone through as a teacher. He would say, "God told you to do it."
What has been your experience as a new author? What is the toughest criticism you've received? The best compliment?
I think the toughest criticism is when I'm asked, "What about the white girls? Why are they not in the book? They have low self-esteem too." To which I respond, the book and its positive diverse representation of literature is applicable to all. The most inspiring moments happen when I talk to moms who have been looking for something for their daughters and felt the same way as I did. They make me feel less alone.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would tell middle school Kisha, "You better go ahead and rock those braids. Your culture is beautiful. Don't worry about what others are thinking, your beauty is coming forth."
How can readers discover more about you and your work?
Readers can find me on my website, Be the Light, Inc., or on Facebook, Be the Light, Inc. or Kisha Mitchell.
Click the link to view my review of Brown Girl, Brown Girl, What Do You See?.