Louie T. McClain II did not start learning about the accomplishments of African American pioneers like Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois and Ida B. Wells until the age of 25. Discovering more about these historical figures made McClain recognize the lack of positive Black role models represented in early childhood literature.
This gap in media prompted the now 36-year-old Arlington native to launch the publishing company Melanin Origins with Frank Minikon in January 2016. For McClain, diversifying representation breaks the cycle of introducing kids to Black leaders with “an inferiority complex.”
“Representation matters, especially at a young age,” McClain said. “Whenever the conversation begins about Black people in history, it starts off with a tale of slavery, and then it moves on (to the civil rights movement).”
McClain and Minikon, both fathers to young kids, are hoping to create quality educational content for children in the second grade and below about the historical achievements of African American leaders, pioneers and historical figures.
The goal, they said, is for the books to not only be a mirror for Black children but also serve as a window for people who are not in the Black community and may not know about leaders crucial to American history.
“I think that when people see (Melanin Origins’ books), they always suggest us for Black kids, but it is about channeling the greatness that lies within and bringing out that excellence in the kids who consume our material,” Minikon said.
Melanin Origins has two other in-house series: a Bible series and one about ethics that teaches fairness, justice and good behavior. The company also helps emerging Black authors looking to publish their stories by connecting them with editors, illustrators and more.
The number of books about Black people has increased in recent years, according to data collected by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In 2020, nearly 13% of literature was about Black people. In 2015, that number was 8%.
A similar trend is occurring with Black authors, the study showed. Less than 8% of books in 2020 were by a Black author, compared to 3% five years prior. The numbers are even smaller for other minority groups.
Lynda Mubarak, a retired special education teacher and an author based in Fort Worth, said it’s important for children to see themselves reflected in books. She is the author of the Detective Maxine Hill series, which has won multiple awards.
Mubarak, who graduated from Dunbar High School in 1963 at a time when Fort Worth was still segregated, did not see an African American child or family on the cover of a book until she was a student at Texas Christian University following her military service.
“You need to see people that look like you in every phase of life because when you don’t, you lose your identity,” Mubarak said. “When there’s no one out there that looks like you, you can’t relate and they can’t relate to you. They have no frame of reference. So it’s very important that diversity remains in the books that we have and we need more.”
Providing the books to show that diversity to children is where the Dock Bookshop comes in. Nestled in a small shopping center in southeast Fort Worth, the Dock Bookshop is a Black-owned, family-owned-and-operated bookstore that found its niche in African American literature and culture.
“There’s a lot of great African American authors out there who have a lot of great stories and I think oftentimes they’re overshadowed in the larger stores, which is why we came about,” said Donna Craddock, co-owner of the Dock Bookshop.
The Dock Bookshop offers a variety of books for adults and children on African and Black history, culture, and persons of interest. Melanin Origins books are among the many names on the shelves.
“When (Melanin Origins) first started, they reached out to us and we were so excited for them,” Craddock said. “Whenever any author or publisher who specializes in books especially for children of color, we just get excited.”
The bookstore, located at 6637 Meadowbrook Drive, is also hosting a number of events throughout February in honor of Black History Month.
Rediesha Allen, a Fort Worth ISD principal at Walton Elementary, said having such books in classrooms allows for children to identify with their culture while growing intellectually. Allen is also a first-time author who wrote one of Melanin Origins’ Bible series book, Elisha.
“When I did my book launch for Elisha, a student just kind of shout it out from their seat, ‘Hey, he looks like me,’” Allen said. “Just even saying it now since chills through my body, because immediately he was able to identify with himself.”
McClain, Minikon, Craddock, Mubarak and Allen all agreed diverse representation in children’s books help kids create positive role models, especially as more people call for better representation of people of color and the ensuing battle in school districts regarding how history is taught
“My thought process was, I wonder about the mindset of kids and how more empowered they will be, how more determined, how more filled with purpose they would be if they were learning about this stuff at a young age,” McClain said.
Fort Worth Report fellow Sandra Sadek may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.