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Persistence in the Face of Turmoil: Creating Black Lead Characters

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by Paul Dixon, Co-founder, Matter of Africa America Time Corp.

Paul Dixon

Paul Dixon

Selling books with Black lead characters has been a challenge, but representation matters, and the window of opportunity is open.

My cousin, author Lehman Riley, and I have published eight books in our The Adventures of Papa Lemon’s Little Wanderers third-grade reading level, historical fiction series featuring our grandpa, Papa Lemon. We are in our mid-50s, and both of us were born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

I attend church approximately half a mile from where George Floyd was murdered. I grew up in South Minneapolis, approximately half a mile away from the epicenter of the social unrest. On June 6, I turned 56 years old. As the day ended, Lehman’s 23-year-old daughter died unexpectedly.

With all of this turmoil, what does the future hold for the Papa Lemon Book business?

We began our book business July 2004. There has not been significant financial success—plenty of starts and stops and ups and downs. It’s been more of a spiritual calling versus a traditional publishing business. There haven’t been many successful kids’ series books featuring a Black male, so the chance of success for us seems insurmountable.

I have seen the struggle for Black lead characters in children’s books/animation since 1994. I worked as a toy buyer for Target stores from 1994-2002 and a toy salesperson for Disney from 2008-2016. Rarely did I see Black people in the children’s entertainment world.

So, does this mean Papa Lemon Books should quit? Sixteen years is a long time to work at something. Why continue when a loved one has been lost? What’s the point? There needs to be time to try and mentally heal. However, eventually, we must persist.

The window has opened for more content featuring a Black male lead character. Despite many challenges, we will continue to work hard for the representation we deserve.

Here are ideas you might want to consider if you have books featuring Black characters.

  1. Talk to school administrators about the importance of purchasing books for their students.
  2. Meet with your local political leaders and tell them why your book is important. Ask for their ideas/guidance.

  3. TV and radio shows are covering more stories about Black people. Pitch your story and explain why what you are doing is important and unique. Be persistent, not a pest.
  4. Meet with representatives of your local colleges and universities. Ask if they will purchase your books and have students/athletes go to schools and read to children.
  5. Scholastic is extremely successful with their book fairs in schools. Ask your local schools to create an indie Black author/Black lead character book fair for you and other authors to sell your books.
  6. Plenty of youth have lemonade stands. Have youths sell your books at their lemonade stands and give them a percentage of the sales.
  7. After you wake up, write down 20 ideas on how you can sell your book. Do this for 30 days. Review all of the ideas and select the best ideas.
  8. Take a weekend and do nothing. Relax, unwind, and seek peace and quiet. Once the new week begins, you may have more ideas flowing from your relaxed mind.

Patience, persistence, and positivity are important if you want to have success selling books or just dealing with life in general. The Black experience in the United States has been filled with significant struggles. However, you now have an excellent opportunity to truly make a difference. I believe in you. Many more people are opening up in order to believe in you, too.

Paul Dixon was born and raised in Minneapolis. In July 2004, Dixon began a business venture with his cousin, author Lehman Riley. They created the company Matter of Africa America Time Corp. in order to publish a series book titled The Adventures of Papa Lemon’s Little Wanderers. Eight Papa Lemon books have been published thus far.

For additional insight into BIPOC representation in book publishing, read the IBPA Independent articles tagged Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion.

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