I knew my day was coming. Eventually, I would stand in front of a group of my peers and my own family and do the same thing. So in that moment as I listened to her speak and I was overcome with all sorts of emotions. Feelings of fear, pride, accomplishment and some fear. Below you will find the foreword that I read in class.
There has been so much talk about the education of the students who attend school in New Jersey's largest city, Newark. Most of this talk is negative. Many people say that the students of Newark aren't that intelligent or the teachers don't really teach therefore the students to go out into the world unprepared for life after high school and beyond. Statements such as these always bothered me. They bothered me for a few reasons. One, because I am product of public school education in Newark, NJ. And secondly, they’re stereotypes which don’t speak to the norm.
I was educated in the Newark Public School system from Pre-K up until the 11th grade, just like my main character, Mya. During my time as student I had great teachers who taught me so much and laid such a great foundation. I was such strong student that I was able to play around my last year and a half of high school and yet, I did not fail any classes and I graduated on time. Most of my lack of effort was due to rebelling against the fact that I was forced to change schools and my teachers didn’t expect much from me. I can only imagine what could've happened had I truly applied myself. So, it truly bothers me on a deeply personal level when the children of Newark get written off and counted out. In all actuality they're still in the game.
These children and young adults come to school and learn in spite of. In spite of the odds that something awful could happen to them on their way to and from school. In spite of the fact that their school buildings are old, run down, dilapidated and more often than not in desperate need of repair. In spite of the fact that their teachers teach their heart and their faces off with less than half of the resources in the classroom as other teachers in other districts less than five miles away. And lastly children in the city of Newark come to school and still learn in spite of what may be going on in their home life, i.e. living in a shelter, no parents, no clean uniforms, no food at home you name it, I've had a student who've dealt with each of this issues if not all.
The manifestations of these situations may not always result in the best type of student garnering the best results on standardized tests. But that doesn't mean you should count them out. However, you only hear about the failing underprepared students when you look at the data. Data which doesn't paint the full picture and story attached to their number. What I learned during my time as a teacher in my hometown, is that there are exceptional students who attend public school in the city of Newark. There are students who given the chance and the opportunity, could run circles around other kids their age. And yet, you don't hear about those kids as often or they're not celebrated outside of each school's own honor roll shout-outs. For whatever reason, being exceptionally smart or a gifted student isn't a label usually put on kids from Newark.
So, I created Mya to put that label on those kids who I know deserve it and to make it cool. Mya is a little bit of several students I've had during my tenure as an educator. Students who impressed me with their intellect and their ability to continuously rise in the face of adversity. Even though the media may not cover stories about kids like Mya, I knew they were out there. Children from the city of Newark have grown up to become the Mayor, Rhodes Scholar, doctors, lawyers, superintendents, teachers, politicians, movie stars, athletes, ad-executives, play writers, the list goes on and on. Still, it seems you only hear one type of story about kids from cities like Newark. I hate to be the one to say it, but, it is mostly about the success of black and brown children who can dribble a basketball or catch a football-- those are the kids from places like Newark who "make it."
It was because of my students who marched to the beat of their own drum and were obsessed with anime, or love Harry Potter or The Land of Stories that I created Mya Andrews a super smart girl, with laser focused drive who happens to have inherited the gift of sight from her late grandmother. The latter is me paying homage to my own grandmother who was affectionately known by the neighborhood as Nanny. My Nanny spoke to me quite often and told me stories about seeing and knowing things before they happened. A gift I'd always wished I'd inherited. I also created this story because I wanted to write a book I would've loved a young, eager reader. When I was growing up there was no young adult literature category. I went from The Babysitter's Club by Anne M. Martin to Waiting to Exhale by Terri McMillan.
When you become a wife and a mother, people tend to think you're done achieving. That's it. You've accomplished all you're going to accomplish once the title mother is attached to your name. I don't subscribe to that notion. My parents never instilled this in me, my mother and father always told me I could be and do whatever I wanted without any sort of limitations. Even though my own mom was a stay at home mother, I never knew this was the norm until I became a wife and a mother. People would start to say to me, "Oh you're going back to school, what about your kids? You spend how many hours writing after you come home from work, what about your husband?"
By no stretch of the imagination was this an easy task or feat. It is hard to continue to pursue your personal goals once you become a wife and a mom. But I must say, my village runs deep. My husband has been nothing but supportive of me and my dreams since we got together. I told him I hated working retail jobs and I wanted to finish school and become a teacher, he said, "Go ahead, I got you."
Once I became a teacher I said I wanted to go to grad school and try my hand at writing again. He said, "You should do it. Don't worry I got you." And I know it's been hard. I know we make this look easy but it has been a challenge and yet, every step of the way he's been by my side telling to stop complaining and anything worth having is worth working hard for. And he was right. Now that things are about to unfold in a way I never even imagined I'm glad I kept going. And I thank God for my husband, my parents and my siblings who step in whenever I need them without question. They help us with pick ups, drop offs, and cheer practice so I can go write, go to class or work understand that Jay has to go to work and earn. My Uncle Gary who keeps my grandmother alive by telling me that she would be proud of me. He is also the one who is ready to get on the horn with whomever to make sure his niece is getting her just due. With the help of my supportive and loving village, I am able to show my girls that their dreams don't have an expiration date. That if you're willing to put in the hard work, sacrifice and commitment you can achieve anything. This process has humbled me and made me realize how fortunate I truly am. I hope this teaches my girls that life is about having the will to keep going no matter what. I want my girls, Mia and Laila to know-- your dreams can come true if you're willing to turn off the noise and put in the work.
For this reason I made my main character Mya determined and driven. Something I wish I had been when I was 16. Mya is not easily distracted, she knows what she wants and she will not be deterred. It took me a little longer to get this level of persistence, but I've gone to school with folks and I've had students who've always had laser focus on their goals. And one of those people happen to be my one of my very best friends and the namesake of Mya's best friend, Tamika Peters. So I know those types of kids are out there.
Writing this book, getting an agent and soon (Lord's willing) a book deal is something that I used to dream about as I stared out of my bedroom window in the 2nd-floor apartment of my family's two-family home, on Rose Street. It was a dream that I'd given up on after I'd prematurely sent in a book I'd written to a publisher and they'd rejected me. They really should've. Once I was rejected I put that dream on hold. I chalked it up to something I would never be able to do and I moved on. It wasn't until I fell in love with reading again, then my passion and love for teaching reminded me how much I love to write.
I want for my writing to challenge the status quo of young adult literature. Creating stories that represent the voices of the under-represented and hopefully, my books can become a part of moving the cannon forward. There's enough room for more stories to be added and deemed worthy enough to be taught to a class full of eager minds. Wouldn't it be nice if a girl from Newark, NJ one day writes a book that accomplishes this.
I could go on and on but I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the people who helped me get here. Even if BLACK GIRL MAGIC doesn't get published ( I totally think it will, I'm claiming it) but let's say it doesn't, just to get this far and be standing here I have to thank those who have held me up along the way. Consider this my version of an extremely premature acceptance speech. Here goes, first I have to say thank you to Dr. Zamora, from the very first email she sent informing me about this Writing Studies program I knew I was going to love having her as a professor. First off because her name is Mia. The same name as my oldest daughter. But from the very first class and our weekly interactions I learned that she was a champion for her students. Something I had never experienced on a collegiate level, in fact I thought relationships with college professors only existed in fictitious places like Hillman College (A Different World). But no that was Dr. Zamora in the flesh. A who's intellect and intimidated by her ability to converse with us in a manner that showed her extensive amount schooling complimented by her ability to carry a casual conversation. Thank you for allowing me to spread my wings and soar in following my creative inspiration on my road to completion of this program.
To Hope, Katherine, Kelly, thank you for your input, support and feedback during this process. I have learned so much from each and every one of you. You all are intellectual forces who I know will go on to do something great. I have grown as student for being a part of this journey with you.