“You so Black, when you smile, the stars come out. You so Black, when you were born, the god come out,” Grammy-nominated spoken word poet and musical artist Theresa Tha S.O.N.G.B.I.R.D. wrote on the first two pages of her newest book, You So Black.
The book is written for youth but has an intentional message to readers of all ages. The words are printed work of her famous poem with the same name, which has celebrated the physical and transcendent beauty of Blackness.
“The poem came in a time maybe like five or six other pieces that I was working on, specifically to kind of tap into my own cultural beauty and in trying to find a way to implant, implement and program that into my audience,” Theresa explained.
Each page is a step-by-step journey through her poem, complete with vivid and imaginative illustrations by London Ladd.
“My hope is that – especially for young readers of color, but also for all people – is that as they read the book as they look at these really, really beautiful illustrations from London Lad,” she said. “That they see themselves … that they see the beauty of the pages, they see the beauty of each character on each page, and they can see themselves or their lives or their mothers, their fathers, their little brothers, and recognize that the beauty on the page doesn’t just exist on the page, it also exists, and it blooms from within them.”
The illustrations include likenesses of notable Black Americans, such as President Barack Obama during his inauguration and Simone Biles during the 2021 Olympics. Moreover, his images also include Black males and females, from newborn to seniors in various walks of life – including scientist, music artists, athletes and activists in various locations, like a church, a cotilion, a Black Lives Matter rally, etc.
The illustrations may appear to be a direct collaboration with the author, however Theresa stated that she didn’t have a lot of discussions with Lad about her concept.
“I really did not have to give him any extra instruction. He took the words, he took my poem, and he drew inspiration from each line. And I personally am just so floored,” she expressed. “I am so overwhelmed by how he pulled these images out of my words.”
The book, much like the poem, is a courageous attempt to capture all that it means to be Black, as a noun and a verb, as an adjective and an adverb.
In keeping with her poem, the author – who was named Theresa Michelle Wilson at birth – describes Black as the night; being wrong and being right; the mathematics of the pyramids and the magic melanin. She reflects on Black ancestry, as well as the present and the future, while verbally painting images of Blackness as song, infinite, grace and love – as well as difficult, yet resilient and proud.
“I think overall what it does is it draws down all of the lines of intraracial issues,” she said. “I think that it brings all of us to a place of understanding that not necessarily the amount of melanin, but just the fact that the melanin exists within you is enough to bring us together. Because it’s certainly enough to put a target on your back, regardless of how much or how little you think is being represented within you. Even if it’s so little that from the outside in people would not automatically recognize you as Black.
“This poem is especially important because it recognizes your heritage. It recognizes the struggle that we’ve come through and recognizes the fact that as a family, we are bonded,” she added.
She stated that the phrase “You so Black” is often heard first from a family member, someone in one’s inner circle or from somebody in the streets of their own neighborhood. She said it’s often used as a derogatory statement, especially in street games such as the dozens.
“The phrase ‘You so Black’ also piggybacks off of the dozens and jonin and that idea of jonin, it was the only way that we could protect ourselves on the auction block. It was our weapon of keeping the price low or making it so that we were unwanted products on the slave auction block. And that’s where it is, so that you saw Black is really – at its core – a derivative of how we learn to love each other.
The author explained the book as a national conversation on racism and why Black lives matter. With the title, she said she wanted to take the racially charged phrase, “You so Black,” and flip it on its head to give it a fuller, deeper meaning – more positive while including the negative – the universality of Blackness.
“I think that the national conversation is one of – like the contention of the book, like this phrase ‘You so Black’ comes from a place for most of us who experienced that phrase on a visceral level of trying to tell you what your Black is and trying to denote that it is a negative thing,” she explained. “Right. So, my goal in the poem and in it becoming a children’s book is to reclaim that idea; one that nobody gets to tell you what your Black is. You get to define that for yourself. And to if I do get to sprinkle – a little bit of my opinion on what you could believe you’re Black to be – that once you receive my opinion that you think the most of yourself through it.
“So, I think that is the national conversation to be had, that blackness in itself is kind of doled out as this negative car to receive and that is not the case. Black is beautiful. Black is the foundation upon which this this country exists, for the most part. Black is required. Black is desirable. Black is luxury. I could go on … But we are a beautiful thing.”
Moreover, she hopes that through her book, when people hear the phrase, “You so Black,” it sounds like love.
The book, published by Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, will be released in January, and she’s already working on her next book.
“I’m so excited about this next book,” she said with a big smile. “And I just want to see it do a lot … I’m in the midst of working the book into a screenplay, into an animated series, whichever falls out of the script work first.”
She hopes to have more literary works to uplift and inspire youth with messages to help them discover “how awesome they are and the power that they hold within.”
But the thought of making a living through writing amazes her when she reflects on her family history.
“My grandmother couldn’t hardly write her name. My grandfather died not being able to read…. So, the idea that I make a living, reading and writing, I feel like I’m the quintessential poster child for ‘I am my ancestors hopes and dreams,’” she expressed.
But that’s not holding her back. As a poet and now a published author, she has a lot to say, a message to spread and a new platform to share it.
“I’m bursting with this notion of loving yourself always,” she said. “And … to the young readers and to the young writers: Don’t be afraid to be creative. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. And don’t be afraid to own your truth. There are things that you know, down in your spirit. Hold on to that.”
SOURCE- Dallas Examiner