I’m a Pretty Little Black Girl – Betty K. Bynum
“I look in the mirror, and on some days, my hair is just a-going every which-a-ways! And when I see myself in the mirror, I twirl and I yell, “I’m a Pretty Little Black Girl!”
One need only to open the pages of this beautifully written homage to little black girls featuring Mia–big brown eyes, a cute round nose and beautifully full lips dancing with joy–to feel the love and compassion that author Betty K. Bynum and illustrator Claire Armstrong Parod have put into this adorable children’s book, I’m A Pretty Little Black Girl. Every word and every illustration celebrates the is-ness and innocence of our baby girls and speaks to the little girl heart of generations of Black women who were never preferred as they are.
It’s been a challenging 4-year journey for this actress, singer/songwriter and moviemaker now author. She boldly points to her faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as what has sustained her and what infuses her passion and determination to fight on. “When you’re starting from scratch and you’re doing something that’s never been done before and people haven’t seen it before, you’re constantly trying to address the why’s, the how’s and the why come’s,” reflects this founder of the I AM A GIRL brand. It has been an uphill battle. Publishers were resistant. They were uncomfortable with the title and tried to persuade her to make it more universal. “Why change the title for somebody who isn’t going to buy the book anyway?,” she debated tenaciously. “The audience for this book is exactly those who are being celebrated by it.” And celebrated they are! From the coily texture of their hair to the rich iridescent tone of their skin, the title says it all.
“There were no picture books for little black girls,” recalls Bynum. She saw Julianne Moore’s Freckleface Strawberry and books with fair complexioned girls on the cover but none celebrating little girls of darker hues in that way. This was troubling! She visited kids sections of bookstores and children’s stores in search of it and saw nothing. “It’s as if Black women are being pushed aside for other choices,” says this advocate, who while a model in the 1970s remembers no dark skinned faces in the catalogs. “When the media is promoting everything that you are not, you’re going to turn that inside yourself at some point.” Subconscious Genocide, Bynum calls it. “It is killing our spirits subconsciously and we don’t even know it until we grow up and want to wear blonde hair and bleach our skin out.”
“I wrote it for myself,” she reveals. “I wrote it for the little girl in myself who wishes she had this when she was little.” Though proud of her dark skin and thick hair now, there was a time when Betty herself didn’t feel pretty. She was 4 or 5 years old and remembers being referred to as the darkest of her 5 sisters and the skinniest. Unable to recall the particulars, she did remember one crucial thing. How it felt. “I assumed this made me unattractive,” she admits. Her father’s friend must have noticed this. He said to her, “I want you to go upstairs and look in the mirror and I want you to say ‘I’m a pretty little black girl.’” She never forgot what that did for her.
I’m A Pretty Little Black Girl speaks to black girls all over the globe. In fact, that’s the reason Bynum carefully chose the words black girl rather than African American girl. She wants all little black girl hearts to rejoice.
To Bynum’s surprise her focus was challenged by someone else: her son Joshua who was in the 6th grade at the time. Betty had instilled in him the value to honor everyone but love yourself first. Perhaps that, along with his being part of a generation where diversity is the norm, is why he was concerned about other little girls who wouldn’t see books about them too. This got Betty to thinking. And later when Target Stores reasoned that she could do I’m A Pretty Little Black Girl and get in some of the stores or she could do an entire collection and get in all the stores, she had her answer! Why get a place at one table when you can have a place at all tables. Hence, the I AM A GIRL Collection was born.
The I AM A GIRL Collection is comprised of books, clothing and dolls that reflect the joyful spirit of all little girls. Todd Black, who is the producer of one of the movies Bynum wrote, “All My Beautiful Sisters,” and produces movies for Denzel Washington, Will Smith and Oprah Winfrey described it best. “It’s a return to innocence!,” he exclaimed. Images of teen girls trying to look older and women dancing with a string here and not enough string are bombarding our youth. “Those images force our young girls to grow up so fast,” complains a concerned Betty. “If my message is sent early enough, perhaps little girls won’t grow up with the issues of the older generation.” At least she hopes so.
With the vivaciousness of Mia, the book is dancing and twirling into stores, libraries and hopefully will soon grace shelves, tables and hands of countless children in L.A. classrooms. “Books will be at Target, Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million and Indy Books,” says the proud momma. Her goal is to get it into as many hands as possible. She sees it becoming a birthday gift or a baby shower gift, even a girlfriend’s gift or a Valentine’s Day gift. Sales have already been significant. Libraries have begun ordering the book. And Betty feels confident about getting her books in schools.
There is much on the horizon for Betty K. Bynum and her collection. Her signature doll will be unveiled at a red carpet event in L.A. on October 26, 2013. Celebrities and the media will be invited to attend this invitation only event. “It’s going to be great,” says an excited Betty. “The doll has already been sculpted out and is so cute.” It will be different from the black doll in the American Girl Store she visited, where the only black doll was a slave. Just in time for Christmas, I’M A PRETTY LITTLE BLACK GIRL! T-shirts will be available online in pink and in white. Betty has strived to make them easy to afford and oh so pretty.
“The purpose of the book is to celebrate all little black girls and to be able to show them in a way that honors them,” says Betty K. Bynum. “I want every little black girl to look at this book and know that somebody worked really really hard to show them love. And that person was me.”
For more information about the book and collection, go to http://theimagirlcollection.com/.