I am often asked, “Sabrina, what inspired you to write a children’s book about mental health?” Well, over the past few years I’ve witnessed children in minority communities become emotionally distraught after hearing about the senseless deaths of others within the community. I received calls from concerned parents frequently asking, “How do I help my child understand what they are going through?” This question stuck with me, and inspired me to think about actions that could help address the mental health crisis within our communities.
I was also inspired by my childhood experiences growing up on the Southside of Chicago. Little did I know at the time, that being exposed to gang violence and poverty was considered traumatic. No one talks about depression, anxiety, grief, or traumatic stress often in African American communities. Maybe because in our community it is uncommon to talk about mental health problems. We are taught to be strong, and often suffer in silence.
On November 18, 2020, I asked myself, “are there any culturally relevant children’s books that address mental health?” After conducting research, I noticed that although there are many children’s mental health books available, there are very few culturally relevant books. Then I stumbled across a disturbing statistic:
“Data on books by and about Black, Indigenous and People of Color published for children and teens compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison, revealed that out of 4035 books received only 232 were by a black author, and 471 about black/children of color”.
The data reflects that representation is needed! I started gazing at my son Jelani Jason, sleeping peacefully next to me. While gazing at him, I had what Oprah refers to as an “AHA” moment. My son’s name, Jelani Jason means “Powerful Healer.” I decided to create a brand that represents the meaning of his name. The Jelani J Brand will create kid friendly products that promote mental health awareness. Then I asked myself, four questions:
- How can I contribute to the mental health children’s literature?
- How can I normalize therapy and decrease stigma in minority communities?
- How can I empower parents to speak about mental health to their children?
- How can I make this simple, interactive, and fun?
After pondering these questions, I began to write. The pictures in the book are representative of my childhood “stomping grounds” in Chicago. The stories in the series are inspired by the experiences of most children residing in urban communities. Most important, I wanted to normalize the image of talking to a therapist.
Starting the conversation and educating our children is an important step toward reducing mental health stigma. We must continue to work hard to decrease stigma, create diverse literature, and advocate for mental health education. My hope is that these stories will have a positive impact on the community, and continue to spark a conversation that is much needed!