Raymond R. Smith, a native of Chicago, has been an avid reader since he was preschooler. The Chicago Public School teacher found he could relate to his students through reading and stories of his childhood which spurred knowledge, wisdom and understanding.
He penned the Righteous Ray-Ray Children’s Book Series whose main character is Ray-Ray. Alongside his fellow fifth graders, Ray-Ray stands up to bullies, shows appreciation for their community and showcases how being well mannered leads to a good time, in and out of school.
Here, the author shares how his hometown of Chicago influenced his writing:
“When thinking of the role Chicago has played in my writing, a lot comes to mind. Chicago, like many other major cities in America, has a huge population of people of color living in poverty. Many people here do not have jobs, and rely on welfare to survive. Among many other things, our neighborhoods are infested with drugs, violence, gangs, guns, and crime. With all of this going on, I found my safe place in books. Reading provided an outlet for me. I remember learning to read before I started Kindergarten, but I never felt a connection to any children’s books. I never read a children’s book that had characters that looked like me, or came from situations I could relate to. I used to love reading biographies about famous people. I remember reading about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and John F. Kennedy. Their stories fascinated me and showed me that there was more to the world than just my surroundings. From reading, I began to believe that I could do something special with my life, because of all of the people I read about, that did great things with their lives, I could do something too. I began to wonder about what I would do with my life to help the world. That led to “From Reading to Believing” becoming the slogan of my Righteous Ray-Ray Children’s Book Series.
“As I went through college, I started to realize two things: that many children of color do not like to read, and families are breaking down, due to all of those vices I mentioned above. I wanted to do something about it.
“As a child, I always heard “Reading is Fundamental” on commercials and I saw it on billboards. It began to dawn on me, that those words still hold that same truth today. Reading is almost as vital as breathing to someone’s life. It was something that was taken from our ancestors during slavery, why would slave owners, forbid their slaves from reading? Why is it rumored that jail cells are built based on 3rd grade Reading levels? This connection baffled me; slaves were not allowed to learn how to read, many of our children do not like reading, and jail cells are built based on 3rd grade Reading levels. There’s something to this activity of Reading that provides limitless opportunities and can have a tremendous impact on a person’s life. I found my passion, I found how I would impact the world.
“Also, as I stated earlier, I realized that families were breaking down. Huge percentages of children were and continue to be raised in broken homes; myself included. Where are children learning to say “please” and “thank you”? Where are they learning to respect each other? Where are they learning to hold doors for people walking in behind you? Where are they learning to speak to people as they walk by? It just isn’t happening anymore. Something must be done about this.
“Every day I see children crumbling under pressure, reacting without thinking, disrespecting each other, themselves and adults, and not doing simple things like saying please and thank you. This generation of youth is probably the most rebellious generation the world has seen so far. Furthermore, rebellious things seem to most get their attention. Righteous Ray-Ray is that rebellious children’s book. It goes away from the children’s fantasy land of wizards and animals and brings them home to reality, with characters that look like them, talk like them, and act like them. There are not enough of these books in publication.
“Righteous Ray-Ray is an example of a child that is secure with himself, has a positive mindset, is respectful at all times, and has goals and dreams. Righteous Ray-Ray thinks through, and tries to respond to situations the right way. This is a child that many children do not get the opportunity to meet and I want them to have this opportunity, so that maybe they’ll begin to think and act righteously.”