Who are you? Where are you going? Do you know you are strong? These important and motivational questions are asked by Useni Eugene Perkins in the poem he wrote in 1975, Hey Black Child, which is now a picture book illustrated by Bryan Collier (Little, Brown and Company, 2017). It is a beautiful pairing of Perkins’ words and Collier’s watercolor and collage. Readers will be able to ask themselves these questions and ponder their future, their potential. Bold illustrations of black children are in the foreground with backdrops of their African heritage, the Civil Rights movement and the protests of today.
Perkins wrote Hey Black Child as the closing poem for a children’s musical he wrote titled Black Fairy and Other Plays. He wanted to inspire all black children towards their potential despite life’s challenges. You can read more about Useni Eugene Perkins here. Sadly, 45 years later, the challenges black children face because of racism are still prevalent. This book and its message is needed.
Hey Black Child is a powerfully focused book with a black child on every spread, allowing black readers to see themselves in a picture book and white readers to ‘step aside’ and let a black classmate/friend/child be center stage. This book should be in the homes of both black and white families. It should be used in schools to build the classroom community. Every child deserves to be motivated, encouraged and seen as a whole person worthy of striving for what they can be, what they want to be. I hope that the tomorrow we create because black children have equal chances, when all children have a voice, does not take another 45 years.