DCP EP. 88 Black Kids Are Lit: Jesse B. Creative

Transcribed by: Sydney Henriques-Payne

Completion date: November 3, 2021

Gerren Keith Gaynor [00:00:03] This episode of Dear Culture has been brought to you by Ford. Introducing Ford’s lineup of electrified vehicles featuring revolutionary tech and models like the fully electric 2021 Mustang Mach-E and the F-150 Lightning truck available spring 2020. The Escape S E and plug in hybrid and the Maverick Truck available Fall 2021. Force options include hybrid standard, all electric and plug in hybrids. Other available features include plug in electric power outlets, a Sync three system for Copilot 360 Assist and advanced technology to keep you connected. Tap into the Electric Revolution by heading to Ford.com for more information. Built Ford Proud. Now let’s get into today’s show.

Gerren Keith Gaynor [00:00:52] Welcome to Dear Culture, the podcast that gives you news you can trust for the culture. I’m your co-host, Gerren Keith Gaynor, managing editor at theGrio

Shana Pinnock [00:01:00] and I’m your co-host, Shana Pinnock, social media director here at theGrio. And this week we’re asking, Dear Culture, who’s telling the stories of our children?

Gerren Keith Gaynor [00:01:09] So Shana, we’re going to talk all about children, literature and just our childhoods. But before we get into this week’s episode, please tell me what is on your mind this week?

Shana Pinnock [00:01:21] Well, a little bit of good news. If you guys have been longtime listeners, you know, I’ve been trying to get the heck out of New York City for a while now, and I got the apartment. So I will be moving back to Atlanta in December. I’m super excited. There’s, this is definitely a different journey for me. I mean, the first time I lived in Atlanta was, you know, for college. And then I stayed a little bit after college and left nine years ago, always with the intention of I’m going to move back to Atlanta like I— it’s so weird, my friends and family who are in New York, who know me, you know, being born and bred in New York, and they’re like, You haven’t been a New Yorker for a really long time. The pandemic, the pandemic made that abundantly clear. Like, I’ve had to get on the subway, I think three times in the last month because of, you know, dental appointments and such. And I’m just like, “What in the ghetto is this?” Like, I’m not interested. I was like, I hate this. I hate that I can’t park. I hate that I got to travel all these places like it’s whatever. But I am super excited. You know, the the only thing that was really, I tell everyone, the only thing I was really tying me here to New York were my parents. So that’s going to be a huge adjustment. You know, I see them every day, though. Those are my people, right? I love them. But I also recognize like, yeah, I got to go live my own life. The vast majority of my friends are in Atlanta. My line sisters; my boo is in Atlanta. So yeah, so it just it just seemed like the the plausible next step. And but I will be in New York, at least for like the first six months. I’m coming back like every four to six weeks because my dad is not a fan. He is, he is very upset that I’m leaving. But you know, I’m I’m just really excited for it. And I don’t know, man, I think that there’s it’s just on to bigger and better, and I’m really, really excited. And heck, I could get all my Spelman nalia now, since I’ll be right down the street. So, yeah, I’m just

Gerren Keith Gaynor [00:03:51] right because those those shipping costs are terrible,

Shana Pinnock [00:03:54] you know? Right. So and so I’m just it’s I’m really looking forward to it. I’m also really looking forward to having a dishwasher again. Like, my goodness, just just simple things. Just little things like, I can’t wait and but, the only thing that I will say is, you know, why the rent that I’m paying here, it will not be the rent that I’m paying in Atlanta. It actually has almost doubled, which is crazy when I think of it. But, you know, and just very adult-y things. But I I’m I’m ready. I’m ready. What about you, G?

Gerren Keith Gaynor [00:04:35] You know, I’m a side eyeing you Shana because some of us live in DC and we’re paying way more than what you’re going to pay in Atlanta.

Shana Pinnock [00:04:41] I know,

Gerren Keith Gaynor [00:04:43] but I feel you. I am –One, Congratulations. I’m so happy for you. I know this is something that you really wanted to do. And as somebody who also lived in that in New York my entire life and decided to take that leap of faith to move, I can tell you that it’s going to be one of the best decisions you will make for yourself at this juncture in your life, and I look forward to hearing all about the escapades [that] are going to happen in the life of Shana in Atlanta. So I’m very happy for you.

Shana Pinnock [00:05:11] Yes, and you know, and for our listeners, those of you who watch me on YouTube, all it is, this background over here is going to change. All right. I’m going to find something fly. We’re going to see what happens.

Gerren Keith Gaynor [00:05:22] New home studio! So, I also have a personal update. Mines about my health. So for a few weeks, I have been having this weird ringing in my ear and I couldn’t really, it felt clogged. You know, you’re swimming in the pool and you come out the water, and your ears feel clogged. And so it happened for a few days, like I would say, a week, actually, and then it went away and. Unfortunately, unfortunately, many of us do, especially as Black men, you know, we go “Oop! I don’t feel it anymore. Let me just keep soldiering on.” And — it came back and then I got scared and I was like, “What if like, I’m going deaf? Like, what? What is going on?” And so I just figure perhaps is just like build up, wax on my ears. And because apparently I was the only person in the world who didn’t know that Q-tips push wax in your ear like further down your ear. So I’m like, Oh, you shouldn’t do that? and neveryone was like “No:  I think even you, Shana, I think you might have told me that earlier. And I was like, “Oh, that’s a thing, OK.” And so I made an appointment to a an ENT doctor, which is ear nasal throat doctor and shout out to D.C. health care because these offices are amazing. I go to the doctor. And not only did they find out that there is not– there’s no wax in my ears, by the way, but they did find that I have one. I have a  a deviated septum. This is something that is fairly common. A lot of people have it, they say, like majority of people are born with it or had this issue and apparently I was born with this. She asked me if I had an injury. I was like, “nope, never had a nose injury. And so I had to ge a procedure to like fix that because like, it can help my breathing better. It could help me sleep better, which I had nothing to do with why I was there and ended up being like inflammation in my ear. And because of the deviated septum, there might be some inflammation here, and I also should go to the dentist. So they’re like, you know, go to the dentist and see what they say. I have already made an appointment for that before this, this appointment with this doctor. So I’m just in this process of like getting back on top of my health because the pandemic, obviously many people felt like it’s a pandemic. I don’t need to be in the hospital because you can catch COVID on. So many people have put health their their health visits, their doctor visits to the, they put it in the back burner and you know, it’s still COVID still here, but you still have to be on top of your health. And so I’m here to tell black people, especially black men, especially, you know, listen to your body, don’t put things off. Because God forbid, I went to this doctor and they told me that I was like going deaf because I didn’t go to the doctor and I had not been to the doctor in years, by the way, I kind of buried the lead there like I had not been to a doctor in years. And so… and I think that it’s important to eliminate the shame around, you know, the doctor and the fear around doctors. And so I’m here to say, look, I might look like somebody who’s very healthy. Clearly, I’m not 100 percent healthy. I need to be going to the doctor regularly. And so should you, because it’s really important because if we want to see our Black men live past 40 and 50 and 60 years old because we’re seeing our black men die way too soon and your health is everything like your body, you how how you treat your body impacts. Your duration on this Earth, and so I plan to live as long as possible, so I’m going, I’ll be going to the doctor from now on regularly. And so I’m proud of myself, but that’s what’s going on from me on my life.

Shana Pinnock [00:09:08] Well, Gerren —I am also incredibly proud of you. And I think it just serves as a reminder for us all, like we need to be taking our health very, very seriously. You never know, you know, something that small that you could nipped in the bud immediately and then it turns into something bigger. So shout outs to you, you know, for… Being the captain of your own health. I’m really incredibly proud of you. But yeah, you know, let’s let’s talk about something else. Let’s talk about some, some children’s books. I’m excited.

Gerren Keith Gaynor [00:09:47] So, Shana, in preparation for this week’s episode, I was thinking about my childhood in like my favorite children’s books, and then it occurred to me that I really don’t have any like… I do remember reading Dr. Seuss. I remember one of my favorite books was Goodnight Moon. And but then, like, something happened. I was kind of was there was like this this like dormant years of my childhood where apparently I wasn’t reading books. I sort of, I was like, really into books. As a teenager, I was like reading books that my 13 year old brain really could not fully fathom. I was reading like “Native Son” and and Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and and there was, you know, that book was a little heavy for a 13 year old. And I do remember, like, really vivid memories of, like enjoying my mom reading a book to me before bed, and there was something about the cadence of her voice when she would read the book. It wouldf just soothe me, and I would just say, “Mom, can you please read a book for me?” And then she would do it. And then at some point she kind of stopped. And I just assumed now as an adult and realizing how challenging it is to raise children that she was likely just tired. And, you know, she just wanted me to go to bed because she was she was new when she was in her early years as a police officer working for the New York Police Department, and she worked crazy shifts. Most rookie cops do. And so I believe that played a role in it. But yeah, like I just… But then like, I didn’t really get into children’s books, I guess. I mean, I do remember I had all the Dr. Seuss books, like literally everyone and I did less reading and more like observing light the colors of the books and the illustration because I would draw. I was a I was an artist. I still am an artist. And so and I was a very creative child. And so I was like, very into the imagery. And then that’s I got a little older. I got into comic books and I would draw comic books. I would write the I would like kind of write the script, if you will. And so I was into it, but it was really my teenage years. I was really a reader. I did notice that girls in my class like, they read a lot. The boys in school, like it was never like, I guess, cool for boys to read. And the girls were, like, very encouraged. Or I don’t know what I don’t know. I don’t know what made the difference because I wasn’t like you, a typical black boy, either. Like, I wasn’t into sports like the bike, the guys and all that. But I also wasn’t like reading that much. Thank God, I ended up getting into reading. I ended up being an English major, so. But yeah, I think reading is really, as they say, fundamental. And now I have friends and family and family members who are having families or they’re all and they have young kids. And I’ve been kind of reintroduced to the power of books and how these are like the first things that children are introduced to about the world, about the ABCs, about numbers. It’s how they learn. And it’s so important to introduce children at a very young age to read because one, you know, there are people who have gotten degrees in. And as an editor, I know that the smartest people can sometimes be terrible writers and have terrible punctuation and terrible spelling. And so ,it starts early. And so I really think it’s important that we expose our children to all kinds of books, but especially books that are diverse. And that’s something I think that we, our generation didn’t have enough of when we were children. But Shana, how was it for you growing up? Did you read a lot of children’s books? And if so, what were your favorite books?

Shana Pinnock [00:13:41] Well, Gee, you know, what’s so funny is my late childhood was completely different in terms of, “Oh no, we were a reading family.” My mom, my mom, says that she because her and my dad used to read to me in the womb. So when I came out like, you know, even I think up until maybe like one or two, like my mother was just reading to me every single night. As a matter of fact, I think I, according to my mother, I could read at like 13, 14 months. Like it was, which is weird. So and my mom and dad, were they really just like honed in on the whole idea of knowing how to read, enjoying reading. So I would see my dad, you know, every single morning he’s buying a newspaper and he’s just thumbing through, you know. My mom is over here. She’d say some words. I’m like, “What does that mean?” She goes, “Look in the dictionary,” you know, all of these things and really just. Just, just instilling that kind of love and joy for reading into me. And I remember there were a bunch bunch bunch bunch bunch of these like little books that you see of like, “Oh, you know, so-and-so was misbehaving” and you know, they hear these life lessons that just goes to learn from this 14 page book. One of my favorite things, and I I honestly can’t wait to have kids because I’m hoping that they still do this and I want to be able to see my kid enjoy this as well. The Scholastic Book Fair, Now, for a Y’all who don’t know? Let me tell you the Scholastic Book Fair. First off was how you knew Low key knew, who had money. Now they’re. And the reason was because they would send you home with these like is like sheet paper. It’s so thin. It’s these terrible booklets of, Oh, these are the books that you can order. And then you, you know, you write that in. And then the next week there’s the book fair. So you walk in and there’s like all of these stacks of books and everything else, and you take your little wagon and you go pick up the books that your parents have already paid for via cash or money order. And you go pick those things up. And then if you had some extra money, you can get something that maybe you didn’t see in the booklet. Love those. But one thing I will say, too, is my mom and my dad were.,, Listen, I went to like a a very Afrocentric preschool. Shout out to johnson’s preschool. Like, I learned about, I didn’t learn about Christmas stuff. I learned about the principles of Kwanzaa. I was a child like, two/three learning about the principles of Kwanzaa. And so because of that, my books that I had were very black focused, black centered. So it’s so funny. My parents were so intentional on making sure that I had things and toys and books that that did reflect me. So one of my favorite books, hands down, I owned the hard copy— of the hardcover copy —is Mufaro’s beautiful daughters and it. I’m not going to. I’m not going, you know? You know, tell all the stories, but it’s an African tale. Y’all need to read it. And what I loved about that is I don’t have children right now myself, but I I’m a weirdo in the sense of I’ve kind of been like planning for future children, possibly. And I also am an Aunt, so I buy a ton of stuff right for my nieces and my niece and my nephews or adopted nieces and nephews. So. And I also really want a daughter one day. So, I buy stuff like —this is not an ad —But I also buy stuff like this. So there’s “Goodnight stories for rebel girls” and then “Goodnight stories for rebel girls” this is the “Black Girl Magic Edition,” OK, because we gone have, you know, so the black girl sn loving all this stuff, and it’s literally just these like short little….Like,And look at that. Marsha P. Johnson, one of the premier transgender activist, is in this book. You know what I mean? I have this the president saying Amazing Grace, because this is the only president my children are probably going to know about real. You know, I have a bunch of children’s books there. I have “Hair Love.” I have. What does that book with Lupita Nyong’o? “Sulwe”   –“Black boy joy.” Like, there’s so many books that I think it’s it’s incredibly important for kids to be able to see, you know, this kind of diversity. What about you, Gee? What like did you have some? Some similar or nah?

Gerren Keith Gaynor [00:18:28] is very interesting hearing your your childhood because it was very different from mine and really just kind of hones in this this like this notion that, you know, this is how it is about the home. It starts in the home. And, you know, my parents didn’t enforce Afrocentric books. Maybe they didn’t know where to find them. Maybe they didn’t. They didn’t look. I’m not sure. I’m not sure if I want children yet, but I do know that as a as an uncle and as a godfather, and if I was to be a father, I would want to make sure that my children or the children in my life have access to those kinds of kinds of books because as a black queer boy, it just kind of just reminded me how there was so much lacking. Like, if I saw Marsha P. Johnson and and I saw like queer men and in my children’s books like imagine what that would mean to me when as I’m trying to figure out my identity, it’s just really, really super important, you know, and I think that, you know, like how you lead, how you choose to lead in your home, it sets up your child or not for the sometimes for the rest of their lives, you know, exposure is everything.

Shana Pinnock [00:19:42] Absolutely, Gee. And you know, of course, we definitely need to speak to a pretty much an expert in children’s literature and media today, so I am super excited for our guest. Jesse Byrd is the founder of Jesse B. Creative, a publishing house focused on diverse children’s literature. He’s an award winning author who has won children’s literary awards in the U.S. and internationally. And he also serves as the creative director for UWish, a creative production company that prides itself in creating inclusive media content that allows all families to see themselves in stories as the hero. Jesse, welcome to Dear Culture.

Jesse Byrd [00:20:19] Thank you for having me.

Gerren Keith Gaynor [00:20:19] Yes. Welcome, Jesse. We’re really happy to have you. I think this is a really important conversation because, as they say, the children are the future, but Shana mentioned something in the intro that you know you specialize in diverse children’s books. And I wanted to ask you, what does it mean to specialize in diverse content? And why did you choose to make this the focus of your publishing house?

Jesse Byrd [00:20:42] Yeah, that’s such a great question. You know, children’s picture books, film, animation, video games, these are really the first reflections kids get to see of themselves. I call them “first stories.” And so who’s making that content and what they’re getting? What they’re seeing reflected back of them is really, really important. And so what’s happening in the industry right now is over 50 percent of children’s picture books that feature a black character are not actually written or illustrated by a black author illustrator. And so when you think about just that one microcosm of Blackness among the spectrum of diversity, what you have is quite a few people telling stories about what it’s like to have this lived experience. They just haven’t had the chance to be in these shoes. And so owning our narratives from from top to bottom, giving a more authentic reflection of that and then broadening the scope as well is really important for why I wanted to do this specific genre and do it this specific way.

Shana Pinnock [00:21:38] So I want us to make sure that we’re actually digging into some numbers, right? So we’re not talking about hypotheticals when we’re talking about racial diversity in media and particularly in children’s books. So the University of Wisconsin-Madison Cooperative Children’s Book Center has been tracking statistics on children’s books representation since 1985, and they recently reported that racial diversity in children’s books has been increasing since 2014, say over the last six years after what the center calls a twenty five year plateau in seeing an increase in racial diversity in children’s lit. But when you look at the publishing industry so publicists, marketing teams, agents, editors, booksellers and even teachers and librarians who get the books into children’s hands, they significantly lack diversity. Lee And Low Books did a study in 2019 that found that 76 percent of the publishing industry was white, with the biggest gap in diversity on the editorial side, where 85 percent of employees were white in the U.S.. So I guess even though society seems to be, you know, centering diversity, equity and inclusion and specifically trying to amplify Black voices, you know, especially now more than they did say, two years ago, why do you think we still aren’t seeing more of an increase in like the publishing side in particular? And overall, just in black storytelling and diversity more broadly in general,

Jesse Byrd [00:23:05] I think you hit it on the head directly. The stakeholders are still largely of the old guard. Right. And so when it comes to us being excited about a story that we feel like really, really resonate with our community, have a positive reflection, have importance, meaning… Stickiness. We still have thenm, as a black male in publishing our work on both sides of the fence. I do have my company, but I also operate in traditional publishing as well. I still have to convince somebody, largely outside of my experience of the worth and value of the story or the script that I’m pitching. And so as long as there’s still that dynamic where we have to connect the dots and we have to hope that somebody approves and sees the worth and what we’re trying to do, then there’s always going to be this, this spectrum of stories that don’t make it through that narrow window of somebody else seeing value in it, greenlighting it, putting it in the production calendar and going on from there. And so I do think that’s why it’s important to have your own sort of ownership and playground. This is definitely something I learned from my mom, who was a New York Times bestselling author. So I grew up in the industry learning from her about the business. It’s definitely something I learned from my mom about how she would always have her own publishing company on the side, just in case, even after she was a New York Times bestselling author. But she would still pitch her publishers on things, and they’d be like, “Nah we don’t want that.”  And so she’s like, “Well, you’re not going to stop me from serving the community just because you don’t want to be a part of this journey.” And so you kind of have your own home to play with your own wheelhouse to test content, develop IP and go from there. And I think that that’s super important.

Jesse Byrd [00:24:34] It runs in the family. I love it. That’s the that’s amazing. But also Jessi, In twenty twenty. There was a report that twenty six point eight percent of children’s books were written by authors of color, which is. Of extremely low number, and obviously there are a lot of writers out there who want to break into the industry and they want to tell more diverse stories. What advice would you give to those writers, those authors those storytellers of color who are interested in publishing children’s books?

Jesse Byrd [00:25:02] I would say, well, number one, one of the biggest things is own your own learning curve. We’re fortunate to grow up in a time and a space where there’s so much information. Writing, like anything else —storytelling is a craft like, you know, spend your time learning how to be better with the fundamentals, studying other people in your genre to figure out how they’re handling story plots, inciting incidents, rising action setups and payoffs, all of that jam. And then second, which was something that I learned along the journey that was really helpful for me is that if you feel like you have something worthwhile to share, even if you feel like it’s only going to help a small amount of people or connect with a small amount of people, then you almost have to be dogit about the fact that you are going to get this work to market the best way you can with what you know at the current time and the resources that you have. So, I mean, in my first book, my first children’s book, I was working at Google at the time and I was I didn’t want to start a publishing company back then. I was like 22 23 at the time. I just wanted to sell the manuscript and keep working my day job. But after one hundred and fifty rejections from agents and publishers, I had to really reassess, “Is it the product or is it, you know, the structure, the industry or is it both?” But I knew I wanted to test it. So I decided to go ahead and self-publish that book. Put it out there. And that same book that was rejected over 100 or 50 times was won awards in Paris and Los Angeles was like one of the top five children’s picture books of that year. For those particular awards. And so I say, all I have to say is that you really do have to believe in the value of your storytelling as a service because I do think it’s a service ultimately. And if you do, then you can’t. You cannot allow sort of the narrow focus of any gatekeepers to stop you from sharing what you have to share.

Shana Pinnock [00:26:47] And I think that’s so profound, so Gerren And I, you know, we’re having a conversation kind of earlier on before we were joined by you and he said something that I found really profound of. I’m actually, I think, so I’m weird and I collect children’s books for my future children that I possibly maybe one day will have. And one of these, you know, again, this is not a ad— one of these is, you know, “Goodnight stories for rebel girls.” And they just did like a black girl Magic Edition. And one thing in there was there’s an entry in there about Marsha P. Johnson, a, you know, transgender activist like icon. And I always find it interesting. Right, because there are so many people who believe that we’re trying to like indoctrinate children for things that are kind of out of the norm. But I think it’s so important, you know, to have kids be able to see like transgender protagonists like their children are identifying as trans, younger and younger. You know, there are really anywhere on the LGBT spectrum. I think there’s opportunity to, you know, share experiences in terms of maybe you have a disability or something like that. Like I’ve I’ve I very rarely see these kinds of books. I guess my question to you would be, how do we find these? It’s like, I know they have to be somewhere. How do we come across them?

Jesse Byrd [00:28:16] I mean, sadly, a lot of them are still on the fringes. I mean, anytime you talk about a big business or industry like publishing, they’re always going to be risk averse. Right? They’re always going to be thinking about “how can we guard against risk? Which means that what’s the plus minus on putting out something that may polarize or ostracize a certain part of our demographic so we could do a book that that that speaks to one particular experience. But if this group over here, some of our book buying audience really has a conflict with that, are we going to be courageous enough to to find a way to still bring that story to light?” Which is which is why I’m so happy that, you know, thanks to technology in the time that we’re living in this wasn’t the case even just 15 years ago in the publishing industry. You know, people can go direct to market, they can get proof of concept. You don’t you don’t necessarily have to wait for somebody else to get it. And so that’s what I’m passionate about with with my publishing company. Jesse B. Creative — is that if there is stories from lived experiences that I feel I could benefit kids just from having some exposure to them, I would literally go to certain stakeholders and people who I feel like may be interested in that type of thing, and we’ll make a story together. You don’t have to have previous writing experience. I will literally sit with you. We’ll talk about sort of what you want to say and how you want to say it. And I don’t even mind operating as a ghostwriter because I think the value of having that authentic lived experience out there is beneficial. And I know for a fact that it’s going to be a slow drip if your waiting…. If we’re waiting for it to come from the top down, we have to prove that these stories can resonate. And once you prove they can resonate and sell at that point, then then all the publishers want to want to do it. Once the once the numbers are there, then it, then it won’t be easy. Won’t be hard at all to get more of these stories, which is kind of what we’re seeing in the surgence of of Black stories right now.

Gerren Keith Gaynor [00:30:00] And Jesse, I’ve noticed that children’s books, especially of diverse ones, are more prevalent now than when I was a kid. I think in the past 20 years, the market has changed so much. There is starting to be some variety that’s growing out of the publishing industry. What do you think is personally is missing right now from the market?

Jesse Byrd [00:30:24] What I think is missing is kind of the same things that that we that we deal with in other verticals like like film and in any other form of storytelling, which is just the whole slice of life, the whole spectrum of life. Unfortunately, when it comes to children’s books specifically, I can’t think of really any, and I’m not saying that there aren’t any, but I can’t think of any top of mind of recurring black lead characters in a children’s picture book series. So, for example, you have “Madeline,” “Clifford,” the “Big Red Dog.” You have “Curious George.” They have had books that have come out over decades seeing them in different situations over time. I can’t think of a single black character for a children’s picture book that has had 10, 20 years of carryover where we just plop them into different situations and you get to see them across the spectrum. I think that’s a huge, huge issue with the perception of blackness and diverse groups in general, because no one person is just one thing. And if you only get to see a snapshot, a photograph essentially of that character’s life, then you don’t get to see how maybe they’ll handle approaching a big game or tests or transitioning to a new school or making a new friend or losing an old friend. All of these are very human situations. And if we want to see reflections of humanity, we need to show the whole bit of it. And I think right now, we’re just not getting that chance to have that robust exposure where you get to see just different slices of life on diverse haracters. And I think that’s something that’s needed.

Shana Pinnock [00:31:54] So I’m glad that you actually touched upon that because I mean, historically, right, like so now nowadays we’ve had really great characters that not even necessarily like children’s books, but you know, we’ve had the Black Panther. You’ve seen Doc McStuffins, which I love. You know, my my niece did not know that doctors could be black until Doc McStuffins, you know, like those type of things. You know, we’ve had one of my favorite video games, the Spider-Man Miles Morales, you know, they all of these different characters. But again, historically, we’ve seen a lot of black characters, especially in animation, especially in children’s books being more so sidekicks or they’re like, turned into animals for some reason. So think of “Princess and the Frog” Tiana, 90 95 percent of the movie. She’s a frog. You know, there’s there’s “Soul.” He this Jamie Foxx. His character is just this tiny little blob just trying to figure out how he could get back into his body. I guess with you working at a media studio, at a media studio right now as a creative director, why do you think this is a trend that we continue to see across, like children’s media? And I guess, how do we move past this? Like, how do we see more Black and Brown protagonists that stay Black and Brown protagonists?

Jesse Byrd [00:33:16] Well, I think unless there’s such such a great and important observation, one of the biggest things is that as we’ve talked about just in publishing, but also in multi-media is that at some point of the creative development process, typically you are going to run into somebody who doesn’t have that lived experience, who has to sign off on this, for it to get greenlit or who has to have creative input in it for it to happen. And because of that, you run into barriers in creative development that you wouldn’t otherwise have if it was all inclusive, if the community was building it from top to bottom. If we didn’t have to go to finance to grab this or to the animation studio or to the distribution platform for this approval. And so I do think part of it is, of course, having more people of that experience inside the room. But a lot of it goes to gatekeepers. At some point you’re going to ride that elevator high enough where you, where you need a point of approval, and if that person doesn’t see it the same way you see it —Well, who’s going to get their way? You know who’s actually going to get their way here? One of the probably the most iconic examples is “Static Shock” when he had his animated series on TV back in the day, I used to love it. It was the first time I’d seen the black character centered like that as as a superhero who was cool and like, his dad was cool and it was really, really cool. Until, you know, the creators of Static Shock wanted to do something that that the parent company didn’t agree with, and they had a tug of war and Static Shock went away. So, so these are the types of things that are happening on a micro level. It’s not always that extreme in terms of like the show gets gets shut down or the movie gets shut down. But it is to the point where, like, whose ideas are actually going to be the ones that survive and last and become the final. And I think because of that, you do see, you know, Black people sort of transformed or spending most of the screen time as not Black. And I do think that’s largely a function of who’s in the room, but also who’s who’s greenlighting what and who has the power.

Shana Pinnock [00:35:15] You know, I think, too, I kind of wanted to understand. I guess moving forward, as you know, where there’s those of us who we are, not writers, we’re not publishers, right? But we’re just consumers. How do we, I guess, help contribute to you guys to to make it a little bit easier to make the keepers of the old guard kind of kick rocks. Like what… What do we have to do as consumers to make sure that we are helping you all who are trying to make this more diverse and representative landscape in the publishing community, especially as it relates to our children? How do we get? How do we help you guys get to that level? How do we help you guys get there?

Jesse Byrd [00:35:58] Yeah, that’s an excellent call out. And simply put, just with everything, the argument is easier for us to make as stakeholders and creatives and business owners when when we have the numbers behind us, when we have the sales, the amplification, the following, the newsletter subscription basis. When we can go with the data, even companies who aren’t necessarily passionate about being a part of our mission, they may not necessarily care about the why behind why we do it, but they see the financial gain in it. They see the reach in it. Then then we can have the argument on that base. So that gives us a really good footing and platform to stand on it. The second thing is, if you’re ever in a picture bookstore looking at a picture book online and and you’re sort of looking through it, sometimes they’ll have photos of the authors in the back and the illustrator in the back or on the inside book Black Jacket, Dust Jacket. If they don’t have that and it is a book that features a marginalized community, then what I highly recommend and I’m sorry that this is an extra step right now, but I can’t think of a shorter work around. Just do a quick Google search of the author illustrator just who they are by a little bit about them. Because I think what helps a lot is when we are buying authentic “own” voices is what we call it in publishing. You know, when somebody of that experience creates that particular bit of content, but there are a lot of things out there what publishers will do, and I’m trying to give it away a trade secret. But what publishers will do when they know that they have a black book that’s not written by black people is they won’t show the author’s photo sometimes. And so you pick it up, Oh, this is beautiful and it is beautiful. It’s beautifully illustrated, is real, real cool, and you look them up and you’re like, “Oh, OK,”

Shana Pinnock [00:37:39] Right. So, you’re seling me this? About Keisha’s new do?

Jesse Byrd [00:37:45] You right it? That’s exactly it is. But but like by the numbers, this book, what’s most troublesome about that is that if this particular author outside of the experience then has a really, really well selling black book, they’re going to get to do a sequel. They’re going to get to do more black books, which also limits the already small number of seats at the table for black creators. So it’s now it’s like they’re telling their stories in our stories, and we can’t even get paid to tell our own stories because they’re making bestselling books basically, you know, showcasing our “experience.” So I think, you know, that’s that’s the two things. I mean, if you get support with following it, you can support with purchases. That’s great. If you can buy from minority and black owned publishing houses, that’s also great. And then also just like doing that quick bit of research right there in the bookstore, quick Google search will pull them up for you, and then you make sure that you’re buying authentically diverse books, which is different than diverse books.

Gerren Keith Gaynor [00:38:42] That kind of blows my mind. I guess it makes sense. Not all black media is owned by black people Shout out to theGrio which is black owned, but I never I’ve actually never thought about that, Jesse about like of seeing a children’s book that might be black centered or even have a black protagonist, but not be owned, whether it’s the illustrator or whether it’s the writer. Should we be like protesting these types of books are not like black owned or are there publishers– obviously, your own  –but are there publishers that we should be supporting specifically.

Gerren Keith Gaynor [00:39:18] Yeah. In terms of like resources and where to go, there’s an organization called “We Need Diverse Books” and they have a website. We need diverse bookstores, dot ORG and they do a really, really good job of sort of sifting through doing some of the legwork for folks. So, I mean, as a consumer, you shouldn’t have to do all of that lifting. You should just be able to go somewhere that has already curated what you feel like you care about and what you want to support. And that way, you can just buy with confidence. And so I would say, you know, as opposed to maybe trying to figure out if all of these independent publishing houses are really operating authentically and with purity, you know, you want to try to find places like that that do the fact checking for you.  Shana, earlier, you mentioned the CBRC out of Wisconsin. You know, their diversity metrics for the publishing industry is something that a lot of us rely on as a pulse check to see how things are going, because otherwise, how would you know? How would I as a author, editor, publisher in Oakland or L.A. now know? Really, what’s happening industrywide in terms of the metrics of literary agents and editors and things like that? I’m represented by one of the few that I know, like prominent black literary agencies in the business Serendipity Lit, and Regina Brooks is just a a titan in the space. But I mean, it’s not like there’s 10 Reginas that I know of. There’s really only one, maybe two Reginas who have been doing this for a while and really have the chops and a lot of, you know, awards and might have carved her path. And so, yeah, I mean, there’s a ton of opportunity, but those spaces will kind of curate where you can find things that help rather than hurt support things that help rather than hurt the actual cause.

Gerren Keith Gaynor [00:41:02] Absolutely. And last question for you, Jesse, and without sharing too much  because  I’m not sure if you’re  if you’re in some deals or not, but what’s what do you have upcoming on the horizon? And also just looking forward like, what do you want to see from the industry moving forward?

Jesse Byrd [00:41:18] Yeah, from the industry moving forward, what I would love to see is more models where the entire developmental and funding process is insular and then we are licensing IP out to the major platforms like Netflix, like Amazon, like Hulu. But they’re not owning and they’re not getting to say how this piece of content looks. And in terms of sort of what I’m working on to your first question. So right now, working on about two to three animated features and specials featuring sort of diverse talent, a diverse cast; about five to seven books coming out in the next 12 months and then working on five to seven acquisitions. So for the companies I’m working with, we’re looking to acquire products and talents, picture books, scripts, things like that from marginalized communities. So we are trying to bring them on to the fold as well, give them the application and support that they need. And so one hand washes the other,

Gerren Keith Gaynor [00:42:17] You have a lot going on. Actually, that’s that sounds like a lot. That’s a really awesome, really proud of you. To see a black man out here doing it. Yeah, definitely. happy to see it,

Shana Pinnock [00:42:24] Booked and busy.

Gerren Keith Gaynor [00:42:25] Yes. But first also tell our audience for those who are listening where they can find you.

Gerren Keith Gaynor [00:42:30] Yeah. So if you’re interested in supporting any of the books from our publishing house, we would love to have your support. You can go to Jesse B. Creative dot com, that’s JESSE B as in BOY  Creative dot com. We’re on Instagram at the same Jesse B. Creative. We’ll also, we don’t only share our own stuff, we also share, especially on Instagram. There’s a lot of artists we come across that we’re just fans of that do amazing work. And so we’ll always be sharing new illustrators with you, new picture books, new authors that that we feel could use some amplification to because they’re doing, they’re doing some great stuff. So, yeah, that’s where you can fne me.

Gerren Keith Gaynor [00:43:05]  Well, thank you so much for joining us today here on our culture. And if you want to learn more about the work of Jesse B. Creative,  as he said, go to his social media platforms @JesseB Creative. That’s J-E-S-S-S-E the letter B and Creative, or by visiting JesseBCreative.com and UwishCo dot com. That’s the letter “U,” wishCO.com. And as always, for more commentary on the culture, visit the website at W WW dot TheGrio.com.

Shana Pinnock [00:43:47] We want to remind our listeners to support your local Black businesses and donate to your local organizations and religious institutions. The business that we will highlight this week is Sankofa Sankofa video books and Cafe specializes in videos and books about people of African descent around the world. Founded in 1998 by filmmaking couple Haile and Shirikiana, Gerima, Sankofa was named for the Adinkra term for “going back to our past to go forward.” Sankofa’s brick and mortar building is located in Washington, D.C., across from Howard University’s campus. Their online store ships nationally. To learn more about Sankofa, visit their website at WWW Dot Events Dot Sankofa dot com. That’s E-V-E-N-T-S dot SANKOFA dot com. theGrio has published a list of 50+ black businesses to support during the coronavirus pandemic. If you’d like your business to be featured, email us at Info at theGrio.com.

Gerren Keith Gaynor [00:44:50] Thank you for listening to Dear culture. If you like what you heard, please give us a five star review. And subscribe to the show wherever you listen to your podcast and share it with everyone you know.

Shana Pinnock [00:44:59] And please email all questions, suggestions and compliments — we love those– to podcasts at theGrio dot com. The Dear Culture podcast is brought to you by theGrio and executive produced by Blue Telusma and co-produced by Taji Senior, Sydney Henriques-Payne and Abddul-Quddas.