Series Educates Black Children About Little-Known Historical Figures
Sakari Milan is a self-published author whose series, “The Tales of Camelia B” tells the story of a young African-American girl who travels through time to discover little-known stories about Black historical figures. In my conversation, we talk about the importance of Black people telling their own stories and how American schools often don’t portray history accurately.
Otiko: Where did you get the idea to write the book?
Milan: I have always felt a growing need to learn more about my heritage and history due to the lack of adequate and accurate representation of Black History throughout my education. Beginning in elementary school, I wanted to know more about my ancestors. I yearned to know who they were beyond slavery and what they did to contribute to the world and my future. The lack of information in the education curriculum saddened me and left me feeling void. Like so many, I continuously asked and searched to discover more than just a history of slavery and the civil rights movement — I always came up short.
Unfortunately, I was taught a limited version of my history, and my frustration continued to fester like an open wound. In college, I met others with the same deep yearning for truth and it motivated me to continue to find ways to heal the disparities we faced. I was determined to use my platform, voice, and skillset to change the narrative. About a year ago, before the pandemic, I began to do some very thorough research by excavating hidden, deleted, and altered facts in Black history. I kept a journal of the wonderful jewels and discoveries I found for over a year. It was not until the pandemic and the stillness of it all that I birthed “The Tales of Camelia B.” I had discovered a wonderful outlet that was personally healing and I wanted to share it with the world. It was so vital that I inspired, uplifted, and empowered everyone else, especially our little ones, with the gift of truth and knowledge.
I thought about my own history and the difference it makes in a child’s eye to self-discover; it was at that moment I knew I wanted to write children’s books and reach every child. It was time for me to grab the pen and begin to control the narrative by turning my pity into power. I knew if I could begin teaching our youth when they are the most innocent, impressionable, and during their crucial developmental ages, I could potentially impact the future and my work would help improve racial relations as a whole.
The American student only learns about African American heritage beginning with the enslavement in the U.S. colonies: a system that obliterated the identity of the enslaved and treated them as property. The real question is, why has history been taught in this fashion for so long? Well, it’s simply to keep certain groups of people oppressed and brainwashed. — Sankari Milan
Otiko: Is there a big demand for this kind of literature from Black parents?
Milan: Black history beyond American history is unpopular due to our history being told through storytellers like griots who passed it down generation after generation. Therefore, much of our history was not recorded in books but told by word of mouth. Sadly, the historical truth and proof have been stripped, distorted, and hidden. Not many Black adults know their true history and as I discuss my books with others, I come to learn that they are thrilled and shocked to learn something new.
I see an eagerness and willingness from Black families to acquire the book for their children. It makes me happy to see so many embrace the book and spread the word. It is time we begin to tell Black history 365/days a year and give credit where credit is due. There is a serious, deep hunger amongst parents, grandparents, and so on to see our history accepted, appreciated, and solidified in literature. The delight I hear from parents is phenomenal. Parents want their children to be able to identify and relate to the characters and content they consume, whether it be in literature, school lessons, or on television. Representation is so important for our children; it tells every child that they can achieve what their hearts desire.
Otiko: Why are these kinds of books important?
Milan: For centuries, the majority has controlled the narrative while Black history has been omitted from our classrooms. Many, including myself, have called for major reform to the curriculum so that Black history may be integrated into our lessons all-year-round. It is so vital that we revisit the motherland because Black history for African Americans begins on the African continent where diverse empires thrived for thousands of years, traded with others around the world, navigated the great seas, and taught other populations about civilization. America was founded on the backs of African-American people, yet we are only given February to celebrate and acknowledge our history.
The American student only learns about African American heritage beginning with the enslavement in the U.S. colonies: a system that obliterated the identity of the enslaved and treated them as property. The real question is, why has history been taught in this fashion for so long? Well, it’s simply to keep certain groups of people oppressed and brainwashed. When you tell a Black child that all their history encompasses is chains, bondage, and violence and every leader acknowledged are those who fought for freedom, this impacts the child’s development and understanding of where they come from. Ultimately, this limits the way they imagine their capabilities and potential. Now, when you teach that same Black child that their ancestors were explorers, inventors, and leaders around the world, that child grows up understanding themselves and their identity in an entirely different light. They now understand they could conquer the world if they wanted to, just like their peers.
“The Tales of Camelia B.” book series is important for Black students so that they can finally learn about their history and greatness. It is equally important for non-Black students so that they may learn to appreciate, admire, and respect their counterparts.
Otiko: What has the feedback from the book been so far?
Milan: The support has been phenomenal. The news about “The Tales of Camelia B.,” with much prayer and a higher power, took a life of its own. The community has been delighted and eager to embrace me. Academia from every forum has reached out to have dialogue and discussions on how to support and immerse the book into the education curriculum.
There will always be naysayers, especially when it comes to our history. I expect to get quite a bit of resistance from non-black people; often, it is exceedingly difficult to accept a history never taught in any curriculum and unlearn everything you have ever been taught to learn something new. So, quite naturally, it is a struggle writing about such truths and feeding them to the world, but I am encouraged and hopeful. I always chuckle a little bit when I review the comments under my interviews and people make comments such as “fiction passing as history.” It seems as if our counterparts have a hard time accepting a history other than their own exists.
Otiko: How have children reacted to the book?
Milan: Children love adventure! Smaller children specifically are fascinated by vibrant colors and animation, just one element of my book that completely captivates all readers. They have found the book to be exciting, intriguing, and engaging as they learn rich, action-packed history told in a childlike manner for easy understanding.
When I observe children of many different backgrounds listening or reading the book, they are stimulated, ask wonderful questions, and are so excited to learn something new. Black children fall in love with “The Tales of Camelia B” because they see themselves in the book! They often point to the main character, Camelia B., and are able to relate to her brown skin, natural hair, and Black features they see in themselves when they look in the mirror.
Otiko: How are you marketing the book?
Milan: As a self-published author, I have had a full-time job exploring the marketing world. I have heavily leaned into social media as an effort to advertise the book. Today, social media is a key and highly influential platform to promote your project, product, or movement. I have received so much support from users who come from various backgrounds, professions, and locations who have gathered behind me and my movement which has been extremely empowering to witness. In addition, much of my marketing has come through being featured on several different news channels, podcasts, and articles in which I have received a lot of traction and sales.
My favorite forms of marketing have been through several interactive Zoom sessions where I have hosted read-aloud events and discussed the importance of the book series with educators. In turn, much of these different marketing techniques have led to many pushing the book series by word of mouth!
For more information go to www.sakarimilan.com.