Much has changed in fourth-grader Keith Ross’ life since the beginning of the pandemic. But that hasn’t stopped the charismatic 9-year-old from chasing his dreams.
After transitioning to all-virtual school and more time spent at home, Keith and mom Dr. Tamecca Rogers, who’s pivoted to working full-time from home, began brainstorming a project to inspire creativity and give purpose to pandemic life. The Tulsa residents both love to read and write, so they landed on the idea of writing an interactive book and journal highlighting the achievements of African American heroes. Now You’re It: Journaling to Perseverance. An Interactive Journal Highlighting the Achievements of African Americans While Encouraging Literacy, Critical Thinking, Perseverance, Diversity and Inclusion includes biographical information about, expressive imagery of and engaging activities related to 45 leaders of color.
“It’s important to know about history,” said Keith, who hopes kids who read his book will be inspired to make a difference, too. “They can be successful and take a stand, just like Martin Luther King, against how people are treating us right now.”
The development of that first book has snowballed into three more, picture books Daddy Can I Decide? and Momma Can I Be Me? as well as a children’s book on Black Wall Street and the Tulsa Race Massacre. When schools closed in the spring and Rogers was engaged in Keith’s at-home education, she realized there were no characters in his school books who looked like them.
“How uninspiring is it when you see no one that looks like you — from the teachers and textbooks to even the posters on the walls,” said Rogers.
Becoming an author
Keith brings a wealth of imagination and creativity to the book projects. Mom and son write the books together, feeding off each other’s ideas, and Keith has been responsible for developing kid activities in Now You’re It to help readers connect on a deeper level. He’s also engaged in the business aspects, interviewing and hiring illustrators for each book as well as setting and meeting deadlines.
Though it’s hard to choose, Keith’s favorite individuals depicted in Now You’re It include some he learned about through his research, like track star Usain Bolt, and others he was already familiar with, like Rosa Parks and Ruby Bridges. When Keith and Rogers face writers’ block, they often watch documentaries together, and the movie Ruby Bridges made a lasting impact on them both, depicting the journey of 6-year-old Bridges, who was the first African American child to desegregate an all-white elementary school in New Orleans in 1960 amidst protests. Now You’re It invites readers to contemplate how Bridges was feeling and how the protesters were feeling.
“Everybody was telling her to leave and being rude and disrespectful to her because she is Black,” said Keith. “Sometimes I am scared because I think [those things] could still happen today.”
Keith has a knack for thinking beyond himself and realized many of his Hispanic friends might like to read his books in Spanish. Both picture books will be printed in Spanish with plans to translate the journal as well.
Real-life experiences gave Keith and his mom a jumping off point for their picture books. Momma Can I Be Me? was written as a nod to Keith and Rogers’ disagreement over his getting dreadlocks, for which he advocated for more than a year before Rogers, who was worried about Keith being stereotyped, acquiesced.
“We’re taught there’s a certain way we have to present ourselves,” said Rogers, “like if you go to a job interview you shouldn’t wear your hair in braids. But I am growing through him, and this is about the importance of kids being their true selves and parents respecting those differences.”
Daddy Can I Decide? takes Keith’s experience of wanting to engage in different activities than his dad, brothers and extended family and expands to helping kids find and explore their own passions.
That freedom and support from his family led Keith to announce his interest in acting, and he’s since served as an extra in several commercials. Keith also loves to play basketball, and in school his favorite subjects are math and reading. The newly-minted author has found learning history is pretty intriguing, too, and he and Rogers have been learning about Black Wall Street and the Tulsa Race Massacre together, inspiring their fourth book. Rogers wasn’t taught about either in her school days and says it’s been both painful and enlightening to learn about the powerful business sector and its demise alongside her son.
“It’s been amazing to go through this with him,” said Rogers. “We would have never had this opportunity if we weren’t forced to be home together by this pandemic.”
Though Keith sometimes feels scared about the visibility of racial injustice in our world today, he doesn’t shy away from learning about hard things, using his voice and being himself, and he hopes the words he pens help others do the same.
“Every Black life is important,” said Keith. “Every life is important, but we say that because of how people are treating us right now.”
Give the gift of a book by this Super Kid!
Momma Can I Be Me? is available for purchase on Amazon. Keith’s other books are still in production and expected to be available for purchase in early 2021.