Kenneth Braswell pens children’s book to work out Black pain

Kenneth Braswell (Courtesy)
Photo courtesy of Kenneth Braswell

Kenneth Braswell has more than 25 years of community development experience. He’s the executive director of Fathers Incorporated, which is a not-for-profit organization that serves as a leader in the promotion of Responsible Fatherhood. He also serves as the director of President Obama’s National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse. The NRFC is a widely recognized national and international resource for fathers, practitioners, researchers and policymakers.

One of his most creative feats to date is penning the children’s books, Daddy, There’s A Noise Outside, a book that teaches parents how to speak to their children about protesting injustices in their community; Daddy’s Feeling Blue (June 2016); When the Tear Won’t Fall and Gentle Warriors. Another creative accomplishment is his two powerful documentaries Spit’in Anger and Dark Hearts.

Kenneth Braswell (Courtesy)
Photo courtesy of Kenneth Braswell

What inspired you to write your first book?
My first book was inspired out of my work and my pain. The book, When The Tear Won’t Fall – One Man’s Journey Through the Intimate Struggles of Manhood and Fatherhood, was part of my need to tell my own story. Writing the book also played a role in the process of understanding the level of transparency I needed to have in order to help others navigate the impact of father absence.

Do you have a specific writing style?
If I had to describe a style for myself, it would be conversational. In almost everything I write, whether it’s a blog, article, book, etc., I try to make people feel like they are sitting next to me in a personal conversation.

What books have most impacted your life (or life as an author)?
When I met Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu in the 1990, I became aware of authors that I had never heard of, Cornel West, Dr. Haki Madhubuti, Dr. Yosef Ben-Jochannan, etc. Reading their books awaken a new consciousness as a Black man. However it was Dr. Kunjufu’s book, Black Economics: Solutions for Economic and Community Empowerment, that impacted my frame of thought about serving my community and what it would take [to] accomplish change.

What books are you currently reading? Why this author?
I’ve turned into an academic and self-improvement reader. So for the past several years I’ve only been reading books that help me in the advancement of my work or myself. However currently I’m reading Failing Our Fathers by Dr. Ronald B. Mincy. I also just picked up Tell the Truth & Shame the Devil by Lezley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown. It’s so hard to read for leisure today. I believe social media plays a huge role in conditioning the way we read.

What new writers have piqued your interest?
I am a subject reader more than I am a reader of authors. I have not been influenced or compelled to pay particular attention to any one author.

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything about your latest work?
There isn’t much I would change about Daddy, There’s A Noise Outside. It served its purpose to elevate and stimulate a conversation with parents and their children around the notion of protest. If I had to enhance the book, I think I would have written a graphic novel instead. With short picture books for children you don’t get a lot of pages to dig into a deep subject such as this. I probably could have accomplished the same objectives with a graphic novel, yet give the book more depth and appealed to a few more grade levels.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging about writing or coming up with a concept for your book?
I only wish I had the time to write about every subject in my head. The great thing about my work is that as much as I love writing, I love filming/documentaries even more. The art of expression has no boundaries. We have so many stories to tell in our community and they must be told from our own voices. However, I will say this; financing and publishing is always a challenge for Black authors.

What was the hardest part of completing this project?
The hardest part of producing this particular children’s book was worrying about if anyone would care about the subject of the book. The subject of protest, unrest and Black Lives Matter is already a volatile issue in this country for adults. Our attempt to simplify it so that early grade aged children would understand the subject made it hard to find the best way to promote the book as a self-publisher.

What advice would you give other writers?
The same advice that was given to me before I wrote my first book; just write. Oftentimes we take way too much time trying to figure out the publishing process, layout, design and event financing. If you have something that you want to write about; write about it. You can organize, add, subtract and edit as you go along. Just talking about it ain’t gonna get it done.

Describe the process of getting published.
Ironically because my first book was part of a healing process for me, I never even considered looking for a publisher. I heard all of the horror stories of rejection and did not want to go through that as a writer. Beside, being a author wasn’t and isn’t my vocation. I’m good at it, I like it, and it adds to my body of work. Because of that I don’t have the pressure of needing or wanting a publisher. Now having said that; I’ve been approached by several publishers regarding my books. Without fail they always want me to change something before they will even consider looking at the work. In the words of Georgia Brown, Ain’t Nobody Got Time For Dat.

What were the literary, psychological and/or logistical challenges in bringing your work to life?
As with any creative process, I engage the first issue I have to deal with is one of a psychological nature, “can I do it?” Tackling subjects that tell stories about your community come with the responsibility of wanting and need to present the story with integrity. As a Black author, you are concerned with the level of professionalism presented in your work. In the process of completing the work, I am probably more concern with the book being perfect in its presentation than I am about the content. I may be wrong, but I don’t think white authors go into their creative work with that mindset.

Everyone’s process for writing is different. Explain yours.
My process is simple; start writing and worry about organizing the content once I feel the context of the book is developing. There is one idiosyncrasy that is part of my writing process. While most people create their cover last; I have to see the cover of my book first. It helps me with seeing the end up front.

What are five of your favorite books and why?
When The Tear Won’t Fall – One Man’s Journey Through the Intimate Struggle of Manhood and Fatherhood by Kenneth Braswell — because it’s my first book.
Pryor Convictions: And Other Life Sentences by Richard Pryor —  because he redefined how we express ourselves about who we are as Black People by finding moments to laugh in our pain.
Letter From the Birmingham Jail by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — because he set the landscape for what it will take to work with our own community and leaders.
Black Economics: Solutions for Economic and Community Empowerment by Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu — it is a simple, straight to the point and realistic lesson one how Black people engage in economics.
Three Feet From Gold: Turn Your Obstacles into Opportunities by Sharon L. Lechter — it set the stage for reminding me how important it is to never quit.

Please provide three good to know facts about you. Be creative. Tell us about your first job or the inspiration behind your writing.
a. I am a black-and-white film buff. I love watching TV shows and movies from the time of black and white.
b. I did not want to go to the designated High School in Brooklyn (Wingate), so I applied to go to Erasmus Hall, which was a vocational school for the arts. I couldn’t dance, sing, play an instrument or act, but I had to choose one. On my audition to get into the school, I sang, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” The rest is history.
c. As much as I claim to like to be alone, I’ve always wished I were part of a brotherhood organization. Fraternity, Elks, Mason, Royal Order of Buffalo; even an NFL team.

What is the mission you set out to accomplish with this book?
Daddy, There’s A Noise Outside began when my 6-year-old son asked my wife why I was in Baltimore on the day the indictments were issued on the six police officers in the Freddie Gray [case]. When I came home and he asked the question, I realized I did not have a 6-year-old question. The mission of this book is to encourage parents and teachers to have complex conversations with young children. We often think and believe that our children aren’t aware of the world around them. Not true. Helping them understand the context of protest and how it’s used to express disagreement or a strong opinion is critical for them to know.

A great book has what?
A great book is one that makes you feel like you are a part of it. Whether as a person on the outside looking in or as an integral character you should feel like in some way, you have a role in the narrative.

You develop character and ideas by 
I like telling a story and allowing the characters to develop themselves. In Daddy, There’s A Noise Outside, I only knew I wanted a family of four which included a dad, mom, son and daughter. As I wrote the story, I imagined what the dialog would be if I was in the story. Once the flow of the conversation is moving; the characters come to life and develop on their own. At that point you can put them in any story and find their placement become a natural fit.

Where would you travel if you could to write you next book?
Anywhere with water and great music.

What is the gift of reading and why does it open up a new world?
Reading and education allow the mind to soar without boundaries. Which is why it’s so important that we encourage our children to read for leisure. Reading stirs the natural curiosity that we all have about the world we live in and all things unknown.

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