The spirit of Rondo is sustained for youngsters with the launch of a new book series celebrating St. Paul’s historic African American community.
Dr. Artika Tyner’s Joey and Grandpa Johnson’s Day in Rondo and Ericka Dennis’ Mr. Rondo’s Spirit: A Story of a Man & His Community are the first offerings of an eight-part children’s literature series from publisher In Black Ink committed to celebrating Rondo and preserving culture.
The Rondo Book Children’s Book Series is the result of a partnership between In Black Ink, Rondo Avenue Inc. and the Minnesota Humanities Center with funding from the Minnesota Historical Society.
At our request, In Black Ink Executive Director Rekhet Si-Asar reflected on what inspired the partners to produce the series.
“Kimberley Nightingale from the Saint Paul Almanac introduced me to [Rondo Avenue Inc. and Rondo Days Parade co-founder] Marvin R. Anderson,” said Si-Asar, who is also co-owner of Papyrus Publishing, Inc. “Elder Marvin shared that he felt there was a void in the information that was available for youth about the Rondo community and the experience during and after the installation of I-94.
“He felt youth knew about the Rondo Days celebration and even participate in it, but had very little knowledge about the historical events and the community prior to recent years,” she continued. “[He asked] us to help identify writers and artists from the community to make this vision possible.”
She added, “The publication features two local writers and artists, all from the Rondo community. The editors, layout folks, proofreaders are all of African descent.”
Its concepts came from Anderson’s “eight core values of Rondo,” which he developed based on his and others’ experience growing up in the Rondo community.
The construction of Interstate-94 may have destroyed the economic engine of Rondo entrepreneurship and small businesses, but the book series shows it did not destroy such values as economic independence, education and hope.
The value of entrepreneurship is explored in Joey and Grandpa Johnson’s Day in Rondo. The story follows Joey as he grows up in a thriving 1940s Rondo community, the African American neighborhood booming with doctors, lawyers, dentists, restaurants and retail shops.
During his weekly Saturday adventures with his grandfather, Joey learns about the rich cultural heritage of his community and the power of entrepreneurship. An excerpt reads, “It means creating business opportunities in your community. I want to be an entrepreneur one day just like you, Grandpa. I will open my own restaurant and bookstore. I can create jobs in the community and help others learn.”
The author, Dr. Tyner, shares, “My books focus on inspiring young people to become changemakers and leaders. This book provides inspiration for young people to explore entrepreneurship. It empowers them to see themselves as the architects of our community by building business enterprises and investing in the community.”
Dr. Tyner, native to the Rondo community, is also author of Making A Difference: The Story of Miss Freedom Fighter, Esquire. In addition to being an award-winning author, she is a successful civil rights attorney, a sought-after speaker, and an advocate for justice. Her’s is an impassioned commitment to helping children discover their leadership potential and aspire to become agents of change.
The book’s illustrator, Broderick Poole, owns Vintage Pooleboy Art and Apparel. He also mentors emerging Rondo business owners and teaches visual arts to children.
The series’ second book, Mr. Rondo’s Spirit: A Story about a Man and his Community, connects readers to the family behind the community. It follows Paul Rondo, a Pullman Porter, who lived in the Rondo neighborhood before the freeway was built in the 1960s. Illustrated by Mychal Batson, Mr. Rondo depicts the changing community, and how, through sheer will and faith, Mr. Rondo and his family find a way to keep the spirit and legacy of Rondo alive.
“It was an absolute pleasure illustrating Mr. Rondo’s Spirit,” said Batson. “Not only did I get to envision [and] catalog the history of my hometown – a place that played a substantial role in making me who I am today – I also got to collaborate with the remarkable Ericka Dennis, who was a teaching artist in my theater class at Central High School. Her words and talent have always inspired me, so it was an incredible honor to be able to work with her so closely on this project.”
This mark’s Dennis’ first children’s book. She is also an actor, director and playwright, who has worked with Rondo youth for the past 20 years.
The Rondo Children’s Book Series launch and book signing take place October 4, 6 to 8 pm, at the Minnesota Humanities Center, located at 987 Ivy Avenue East in St. Paul. Community members will be able to meet and greet the authors and illustrators.
For more information, email MNInBlackInk@gmail.com or call 612-481-1552.