Black writers talk healing and the importance of shared experiences

Submitted photo Dr. Artika Tyner at a pre-COVID book signging

Pulitzer Prize winner Gwendolyn Brooks knew the value of Black publishers as both marketers and, importantly, an empowering social and cultural construct. Which is why, in 2002, she turned down a lucrative deal to stay with Harper & Row, going instead with Black publishing companies Broadside Press and later, Third World Press.

This sense of commitment to community is carried on with the Minnesota Black Publishing Arts Collaborative. The collective is comprised of seven organizations: In Black Ink, Papyrus Publishing Inc., Strive Publishing, Matter of Africa America Time Corporation, Planting People Growing Justice Press, Vermillion Ink Press and Wise Ink. Thanks to this consortium, today’s writers make it to the shelves of schools, libraries, and, of course, booksellers.

The Collaborative’s stated mission is to “jointly address the community needs and amplify the voices of local Black writers. We must write our own stories…storytellers have the power to change our current reality.”

Towards that goal, the Collaborative offered “Black Writers Healing: Challenging Authors and Writers to Testify” on June 27. The two-hour discourse, hosted by In Black Ink, and moderated by Dr. Joi Lewis, convened panelists Carolyn Holbrook, Dr. Artika R. Tyner, Jesse Ross, Keno Evol, Terrance Shambley Jr., Chavah Gabrielle and Tish Jones following the globally decried death of George Floyd and in midst of the steadily worsening COVID 19 pandemic. 

Rekhet Si Asar, In Black Ink executive director and Papyrus Publishing Inc. co-publisher, told the MSR prior to the event, ‘This brings awareness to the potential and power of Black people…reclaiming control of our own narratives. With a variety of perspectives about [our] experiences.”

Strive Publishing, whose marketing catchphrase is “Breaking barriers, book by book,” specializes in children’s books and young adult novels, affording kids and teens an invaluable opportunity: seeing themselves, their culture and community authentically represented. 

During the discussion, founding Executive Director Mary Tarvis commented, “It is important for Black publishers to provide pathways for Black writers. The publishing industry has a history of not valuing the Black voice.” 

Accordingly, Strive compiled the upcoming “Celebrating the Sistas,” which shares inspirational accounts of women of color in education, politics, business, health, and social services. Contributing to the collection are Dr. Tyner, Commissioner Toni Carter, Rep. Rena Moran, Marcia E. Murray, and MSR Publisher Tracey Williams-Dillard. 

There will also be the short fiction anthology “Story to Story” by emerging authors and illustrators, and multicultural stories that parents and educators can share with young minds. “We know how valuable and important the authentic Black narrative is,” said Tarvis, “a narrative that is not edited to fit the White standards and not a trending stereotype but powerful, historical, and inspirational. our children need to know our stories.”

Dr. Artika Tynerwho manages Planting People Growing Justice Press, takes that as something of a mantra, having written “Joey and Grandpa Johnson’s Day in Rondo” (In Black Ink) and “Kofi Loves Music”(Planting People Growing Justice Press). 

Dr. Tyner shared on the panel that in the past few weeks, while at functions she’s attended, much of the talk was about salvaging and rebuilding Black communities after the rampant destruction. “Let’s invest millions of dollars in anti-racism, but they never express the why. How did we get to this moment of history?” Clearly, a crucial point to confront.

Dr. Joi Lewis (“Radical Healing: The Act of Radical Self-Care”is CEO of Joi Unlimited and Founder of The Healing Justice Foundation. She offered an anecdotal illustration of how to cope in this aftermath of a community crisis. When she was a little girl and skinned her knee, grandmother would get out the alcohol. “‘We have to clean that out,’ she’d say. “And I could feel the burn, right? She was loving and kind but, it was, ‘We got to get that out of there.’ 

“Then, after I calmed down from all the crying, she put a little bit more on it. So, I had to go through a process. What I want to put out there is that healing is a process. You have to put a little alcohol on it and clean it out. That is what our writers do. They bring the salve.”

Rehket Si Asar reflected on the prospects of another such forum, which drew roughly 150 attendees via Zoom. “Based on feedback, there will be additional events. The thing is we don’t talk to each other enough to move the bar, and the conversations often do not come to a place where we have a shared understanding.

“There were follow up discussions that were requested by participants. We would like to do quarterly events, then when COVID is better controlled, in-person.”