A beautiful new picture book from Andrea Pippins and Jamia Wilson, Young, Gifted & Black transcends time and space to champion the contributions of 52 black changemakers
Who were your heroes when you were growing up? Who did you look up to, who did you want to be just like? Whose accomplishments astounded and inspired and entranced you as you drifted off to sleep at night?
As adults, we can often follow the impact of our role models – those friends, teachers, and public figures who inspired us to do and be our best. Those athletes or artists or inventors who showed us a path toward unlocking our own potential. We remember the first time we read a book, heard a speech, saw the face of a person we would later say changed our lives.
When we’re children, these key influences can mean everything. They can give us the courage to try, the persistence to keep going, the resilience to get up after we’ve been knocked down. If you’ve seen someone you respect struggle and succeed, you have a sense that success is possible.
And if you’ve seen someone who looks like you struggle and succeed, you have a sense that you can succeed too.
Young, Gifted & Black: Meet 52 Black Heroes from Past and Present
Young, Gifted & Black, from Quarto Press’s Wide-Eyed Editions, celebrates the achievements of 52 “black heroes from past and present” because black achievements matter. These stories are as integral to the fabric of our culture as any tale about George Washington or Walt Disney. With illustrations by Andrea Pippins and words by Jamia Wilson, Young, Gifted & Black collects these narratives, these heroes and their accomplishments, so that black children can have the experience of looking up to a role model who looks like them.
“This book is a love letter to the next generation and to the ancestors.”
The book practically jumps off the shelf into your hands. Pippins’ bright colors, bold fonts, and decorative background beg you to open it. And from there it’s hard to put down. The gorgeous portraits, along with Wilson’s clear, sharp prose, take you on a journey – through time and space, across cultures and around the world, from the well known and to the relatively obscure. Many of these people have been forced to take a backseat, their significance downplayed, erased, and replaced. You really can open up to any page, fall into the book, and reemerge a half hour later a ton more woke.
Filled with uplifting stories of people of color who followed their dreams, Young, Gifted & Black traces childhood inspirations to important contributions later in life. Featuring musicians like Louis Armstrong and Esperanza Spalding, filmmakers such as Ava DuVernay and Steve McQueen, historical figures like Harriet Tubman and George Washington Carver, it’s a wonderful way to expand our concept of black history and culture to encompass so much more than Dr. King (but don’t worry, he’s in there too!).
The Kind of Book I Needed as a Child
For author Jamia Wilson, who is also the Executive Director of the Feminist Press, “It’s the kind of book that I needed as a child.” Wilson emphasizes the importance of seeing people who look like you represented in positive ways, the importance of understanding the accomplishments of your forebears: “I really wanted this to be out there so young people could learn about black luminaries: the leaders, dreamers, creators. This book is a love letter to the next generation and to the ancestors.”
The fact that the book focuses on black luminaries shouldn’t discourage folks of other races to pick it up though, because Young, Gifted & Black is for everyone. “I’d love it if people of all races, if children of all races, used this book to learn about those who have been left out of history books by systemic inequity,” Wilson explains. It’s the perfect vehicle to introduce all children to the achievements of black people and to start conversations about race. Shouldn’t every chess-loving child know the name Maurice Ashley? Shouldn’t every would-be astronaut have the image of Mae Jemison in their heads?
“Readers are a part of this community of luminaries & the conversation it’s stirred up.”
A Beginning, Not an End
So who didn’t make the cut for Young, Gifted & Black? “That’s the one sad part,” Wilson laments. “The world needed this book sooner, or needs many more of these books! We couldn’t fit everyone we wanted to.” The creative team strove to represent what Wilson called “the diasporic diversity of blackness”: they hoped to be inclusive of disabilities, multiracial people, LGBTQ people, black people from outside the USA. There’s even a French translation on the way. “This is a beginning,” reminds Wilson, “and not an end.”
Already, there’s a community forming around Young, Gifted & Black. Folks are buying copies for their local schools and children’s programs, for loved ones and colleagues. And they’re sending Wilson photos to prove it. “It’s taken on a life that I’m happy about and proud of,” she tells us. “There’s a community aspect that’s really beautiful. Readers are a part of this community of luminaries and the conversation it’s stirred up. Everything about this experience has been lovely. It’s a sweet spot that gives me hope when things are hard.”
Young, Gifted & Black gives us hope too! Hope that we can draw inspiration from the past, understand our collective greatness, and take on the hard times together.