African Griot Book Fair for Baltimore Children
Contrary to how mainstream media often portrays Baltimore, positive and empowering events like these are organized regularly. We spoke with the organizers and participants at the 2nd annual African Griot Book Fair for Children at Druid Hill Park
GILLETTE DICKENS: Hi, how are you doing? My name is Gillette Dickens and I’m the trusted servant for the African Griot Book Fair for Children. Well the idea came about, we have a program called books and barbeque where we just go around the city and do barbeques and give away free books.
So I kind of thought of an idea how I could interchange or make the bridge between adults and kids again. So I got the idea of going back to our ancestral roots and doing griots. I did some research on griots. So I came to find out how important griots were in our African culture.
So I tied the two together. Book fair, storytelling, with African griots. We’re growing, we’re growing. Last year was a real struggle. But this year we’re getting quite a turnout and I expect next year will be twice as big. So we’re definitely growing.
Most of the things that we do here are giveaways and most of the stuff is free. So we don’t try to make a profit or anything. We try to help the community. Again there’s a bridge between seniors and children in our community and I thought that this would be a wonderful way to bridge that gap again. Because we definitely need to go back.
I’m a grandma’s boy, you know. So I know what it’s like to go back over my aunts’ and uncles’ houses on Sunday and just sit and watch TV and talk to the ancestors. So that was the connection. This is not a political event. This is an educational event for the kids.
So I mean you’ve got everybody here. You’ve got people from all different religions. You’ve got people here from all different ethnic backgrounds. All different social economic background and we just all come together to serve the kids. So there’s really no political message in this except for we can do it ourselves.
MILAN: Hi I’m Milan, the owner of Confidence by Milan. This is my partner Amaya.
AMIAH: Hello. And this is our new partner Sage.
MILAN: And today we’re at the second annual Griot Book Fair, selling some of my clothing products. So I have some shirts over here. And what I do for Confidence by [Milan], is I go buy some shirts in my vinyl and I just purchased a heat press to heat press the vinyl on my shirts and my clothing, That’s what I do for Confidence by [Milan] and I’m having a lot of fun working with my team for my business, Confidence by [Milan].
AMIAH: I’m Amaya, [Milan’s] partner. And she also started a business when she was 6. A cookie business. And she wanted to inspire people, doing this.
MILAN: So this is my second business. And I started this clothing line. This inspirational and motivational clothing line just to make people love themselves and know that they’re unique. Stands for Knowledge Invests Discipline.
I’m a young CEO and that stands for Creative Entrepreneur Ownership. I also have CBM which stands for Confidence by Milan. Resilient. What I came up with this for was to let everybody know that they can bounce back from all of their challenges in life.
BASHI ROSE: And how can people get in contact and get your personal information.
MILAN: What they can do is go on my clothing line website. Also I have—
ROSE: What’s the website?
MILAN: [email protected] and I have a YouTube channel with all my presentations.
ROSE: What’s the name of the YouTube Channel?
MILAN: Confidence by Milan. I also have my fashion show and I’m also – I’m really excited for another event that I’m having for Reginald F. Lewis.
AMIAH: And this is her card.
DAVID MILLER: David Miller, born and raised in Baltimore. Grew up not too far from Druid Hill Park. I’m out here this afternoon with a host of writers and activists who are really trying to promote both accuracy and family. So this one of my new books. It’s called the Green Family Farm. It’s the story about a family growing up in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. They realized they live in a neighborhood that’s a food desert.
So the family, mom, and dad decide that they want to literally take an abandoned lot cross the street from their house and start an organic garden. And so all of the books that I do really have a kind of social justice feel to them. So the African Griot Book Fair really was designed by brother Gillette. And again it’s an opportunity for children and families to come together. Too often in Baltimore we talk about the nonsense and the madness.
But we don’t talk about a lot of the community events, that are positive. Sister Maria [Broom] was out here earlier doing some story time. There’s free food, refreshments. There’s a host of authors and other people out here who are doing really powerful stuff. So literacy is a life skill man. So it’s really important that black and brown people, both as writers and illustrators, we’ve got to document our story.
All too often, other people are telling our story. If you look at a lot of these books that are being written and illustrated, they may have a black or brown face on the cover but we find a lot of times these books are not written by our people. And so myself and a bunch of other people are really trying to change the game.
We’re writing children’s books. We’re writing books for adults. And everything is around empowerment. Getting some tremendous support from the community. Both in Baltimore and across the country.
I was just telling some folks here back in February it was part of the black comic book festival at the Schoenberg in Harlem, New York. Over 5 thousand people came out. A couple months ago here in Baltimore over at the Reginald Lewis Museum, they had their black children’s book event. Over 3 thousand people came out.
We’re here today, a couple hundred children and families have come out. Got a chance to eat, got a chance to get some books and really meet authors and illustrators. So the response is overwhelming. We just got to continue to do these kinds of events.
JAMES MERRITT: I’m at the real children’s family book festival because I want people to understand that financial literally is very important for children. My book is spencer’s first bank account. It teamches children how to go to the bank for the first time. Introduces them to words like savings, investing, withdraws, deposits, interests, and loans. Just to keep the conversation going about money in the household.
Events like this are important because they are vital not only to the community, keeping everybody together, us networking. But also because literacy is important. The more we can introduce our children to literacy of any type, the better the children will be. Especially when a literally revolves around their own culture, their own history, and also thinking about a vision for the family, for the community, for the future.
OLAKEKAN: My parents started out [inaud.] 30 years ago with the intentions of brining books that they found difficult to find when they were in college and they found necessary. So they knew other people were having the same struggle so they made those available to the community. Then I was born and I helped sell the books. It influences me in a positive way because I never knew another option.
I never knew that there was a chance that–well initially that there was a chance that I could not be in a book or that I could not be represented. And it’s important for children to be able to see themselves in the books so that they can relate to these experiences. Like a lot of people want to say that children’s—fiction is not important. Parents want to make sure that their children only read the nonfiction.
These are important but a lot of times these fictional stories will get the children interested because they can see themselves in these stories and they can see how they would’ve been affected if they had lived during this time period. So that will help broaden their interests into like maybe you know African history broader or how the civil rights movement has impacted their life or what would’ve happened during the civil war. Like the actual facts rather than just the story. But all of it together helps to bring that together.
It’s shocking to me still but a lot of people say they can’t find these books for their children. So a lot of people are still struggling to find the resources to show their children why this information’s important. So this just makes it easier for them.
We have a lot of children’s books. Today we just have a smaller selection. So like we do have the important nonfiction like who was serious. Who was Louis Armstrong? Who was George Washington Carver? And it’s important that we know our role models but in addition we also have the books for younger children. Like the Village that Vanished. Jumbo Means Hello. Moja Means One. So it introduces children early on to Swahili and learning more about their culture in a broad perspective.
You know everybody’s here to get their books and really excited about – like a lot of parents are really excited about seeing books that they read as a child and now they can read it to their children. And other books that they never had the opportunity to read. They’re excited about a few mothers and fathers will come over and their children are like I want that one and the parents are like but I want that one. So they get both. So they both have that experience together. No problem.
SHAWN OWENS: So I’m here because I work at Fresh at the Avenue, first and I’m with a coalition called No Boundaries. And what No Boundaries does is that we go into the community and we help out in the community as far as bring fresh produce and different things like help safe clean up with the youth. So as a coalition with a bunch of community workers and people that live in the community that put banding together to help out for the community in the 21217 area.
Well the brother who had actually started, I mean who actually helped run the event, he had asked my group, my coalition group to come with the fresh produce and let everybody know exactly what we do in the neighborhood and maybe we could come together as a community and a family and try to broaden it out.
I think that this is something good because it’s giving you a little culture and it’s letting you know everything about your culture and who you are. And it’s helping you to learn how to read and how to eat fresh fruit and just giving you some sense of culture and who you are as a person. As a black man, should I say or black woman.
Well the first thing is that they just killed all of the markets in West Baltimore’s central area. And the thing about is they left us with save a lot and to me, I wouldn’t save a lot because that’s like the bottom of the barrel market. Where as though they get stuff kicked over and then you get in the community where we live and where we live at. So what we’re doing is we’ve started a thing called Fresh at the Avenue at Pennsylvania Avenue. At Pennsylvania and [Largs] on Wednesday and Saturday from 9:30 to 4:30 on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10:30-4:30 on Saturdays.
So what it is is that we have no fresh fruit, no fresh produce anywhere in Baltimore City in the west district area. So what we did is we banned together and teamed up with Whole Foods and local farmers and local gardeners in the community of 21217 area and we all came together and started a farmers market in that area. And what I do and the role that I play in the area is I go and deliver to the corner stores. Whereas though the corner stores could have fresh fruit and vegetables and the corner store’s not just coming to the market on Wednesdays or Saturdays. That way we could put it into motion. Whereas though you have the option of getting it at every chance you have.
TIFFANY WELCH: So I work for No Boundaries Coalition which is a community lead advocacy group in central West Baltimore. And I am the director of food access. So I’m here today actually as a partner in the community, bringing some fresh fruits samples because my role is to help solve some of the issues that food [inaud.] plague central West Baltimore. So we lost our last supermarket in February which was Murry’s.
So now we have a lack of fresh affordable meats and seafoods and produce and our first initiative was to create a community run produce stand. So we currently operate one, one day a week at Pennsylvania avenue market. It’s a collaboration between the markets, No Boundaries, and Whole Cities which is a nonprofit of Whole Foods.
So we’re able to offer Whole Foods quality, organic low cost produce at whole sale cost and in partnership with our local urban farm. [Inaud.] we’re able to offer local greens like kale and collars and cucumbers and things like that, all grown on the city’s biggest urban farm which is sourced by ex-offenders. So we’re trying to create a local economy of fresh foods and also recycle money so we can sustain our urban agriculture.
We had a lot of health disparities in our neighborhoods, especially with central West Baltimore because we had communities that have high social economic statuses and some that have very low. So it’s a matter of two to three streets difference between life expectancy being 80 and being 60 years old and that’s simply because of the access to fresh and healthy foods.
So instead of residents just having to settle for what’s in their community or spending extra money to get outside of the community, to get fresh foods, we want to bring it to them. So Baltimore can look the same as it does downtown as it does uptown where we are.
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