One of the responsibilities of being a writer is giving back to the community that has nurtured me. One of the best ways to do that is to champion new writers when they begin their writing careers. It is always a privilege to discover someone whose passion for a topic had compelled them to write a story that will help others. So this month, I’m so pleased to introduce readers to De’Shawna Yamini. Yamini is a lifelong resident of the Dayton, Ohio, area and a member of the staff of Sinclair Community College. Multifaceted, she has a Masters of Business Administration from Franklin University, and, as a life-long learner, certificates in African American studies, holistic health, and real estate. De’Shawna is the author of the children’s book, “If She Can Do It, I Can, Too!” published in early 2022. She has been married to her husband, Abdul, for 22 years, and together they raise their 14-year-old son and their nieces, who are 17-year-old twins.
Please join me in welcoming her to my favorite space on my website — Author of the Month.
Janet Irvin: Welcome, De’Shawna. It’s a pleasure to have you visit my site. Since every author starts somewhere, will you share a little of your background story — educational journey, favorite childhood books, a teacher who inspired you?
De’Shawna Yamini: I’ve been writing since I was eleven years old. I started writing poems and rap lyrics. I can remember writing an anti-drug abuse rap at age eleven. I lived in a nice neighborhood in West Dayton, but around the time I was 11 or 12, the crack cocaine epidemic happened. It was like a bomb went off. I started writing to feel better and have kept journals for many years.
I write just about every day, but there were some years I didn’t write much. I mainly write about my dreams and goals. It’s remarkable to go back and read what I wrote and see exactly how what I asked for came to be. It’s such a blessing.
JEI: Sometimes choosing a writing genre seems to happen organically. Other times, a special interest or even a colleague directs us toward one form or another. Did you consciously decide to do a children’s book or did it ‘just happen’?
DY: In addition to keeping journals, I also create vision boards. I like to think of them as visual prayers. On one board, I have the message, “I will be a published author.” However, I did not intend to publish a children’s book when I created that board. I wanted to write a book that discussed positive body image, exercise, and nutrition. My niece, Chonda, who was like my sister (we were close in age), died at age thirty-six, about two and a half years after having gastric bypass surgery. I know these procedures have helped many people get healthy, but many have lost their lives through some side effect of it. I intended to write something to help people try a better way to reach a healthy weight. I was going to research and talk to people, write as much of her story as possible, and dedicate it to her. I still might.
However, I was assigned to write a children’s book while taking an African American history class in 2018 with a fantastic group of young Black men. I was serving as a coordinator of a program to assist Black men with completing an associate’s degree at a community college. Our professor said our books could be about anything in African American history. I remember knowing right away what I wanted to write about. I wrote about the extraordinary achievements of Black women, past and present and called it, “If She Can Do It, I Can, Too!” Even the title seemed to come to me quickly.
Since I am a rhymer at heart, the book has a poem about each of the featured twelve women and a little paragraph of biographical information about them. The goal was to encourage readers to be inspired by the women who faced obstacles to achieve their success. What would you be inspired to accomplish if they could do what they did? I finished my assignment and didn’t think about it again until about two years later. I was going through a folder in my office when I found my work and showed it to one of my students. He asked if he could keep it, took it home, and read it to his daughter. He came back a few days later, saying how much she loved it and strongly suggested that I work to turn it into an actual publication. I got started on the publishing process a few months later. Vision boards work when we do!
JEI: How did you select the women you feature in your book? Was it difficult to decide who to feature?
DY: When I chose the women, I wanted to feature some who were little-known but had accomplished extraordinary things. I also featured some well-known but discussed some aspects about them people may not yet be aware of. My assignment featured eight women, but I added four more because my published book needed to be longer. It was easy for me to choose. I had researched several of them previously for short videos called “Black History Moments” that I wrote but were filmed and produced by the marketing department at the community college where I worked and made available during Black History Month. It is incredible how things work together.
JEI: In seeking publication, what path did you follow – self-publication, hybrid, traditional? Did you find the process easy or daunting?
DY: I intended to self-publish, and in the summer of 2020, during the pandemic, I took a webinar offered by Valerie Lewis-Coleman of Queen V Publishing designed to help those interested in self-publishing a children’s book. I listened and took notes, but I decided to hire Valerie when the time came. I did find the process easy. I used Microsoft Publisher to complete the layout of the book myself. I was blessed to find a wonderfully talented illustrator, Ayzha Middlebrooks, and we worked together for about sixteen months via Zoom and text messages to discuss and create the drawings.
JEI: Can you speak to the availability or lack of books for young Black readers?
DY: There seems to be a growing selection of books for young Black readers. I am a member of the Black Authors Network on Facebook. There are lots of new and established authors, as well as offerings from public figures and celebrities. The selection and availability will continue to grow. Authors are energized by what we need children to know about themselves and their history.
Some people are committed to banning books that have anything to do with Black history, which is ridiculous, calling the subjects offensive and divisive. If it’s offensive to them, can they imagine what it was like for the people who went through it? Ruby Bridges and many others who survived terrible things are still alive. Just ask them.
JEI: Do you plan to expand your literary offerings? In what way?
DY: Yes! I aim to write four children’s books – two that feature women in Black history and two that feature men. I am working on a book featuring Black men right now, but I must admit, it is hard for me to narrow down my list, which I think has well over twenty names on it. I will self-publish the remaining books – publishing services are expensive!
JEI: As an educator, what’s the most important learning you hope students achieve?
DY: I want students to know that they can be anything they want. I don’t want them to limit themselves. Some youth believe that entertainment and sports are the only ways to make it. Now, if those areas are your passion, that’s what you should do. I am concerned that many of our young people avoid careers in science, technology, engineering, and math – jobs where the need is great and ones that can offer them an excellent quality of life.
JEI: What’s next for you on your writing journey? your academic one? your personal life path?
DY: Great question! While I don’t know what’s next for me, I feel excited about whatever is next! So many beautiful things have happened to me in the past two years; this is just the beginning. I have worked in higher ed for over twelve years. It has been a great run! Higher education has changed so much due to the pandemic I am still determining what the future holds for me there. I have some ideas to help people decide if a degree or certificate is something they want to pursue. I may earn another credential. I earned a real estate license over the pandemic that I have yet to use. I am open and receptive to all opportunities!
JEI: What books are on your to-read list?
DY: I have been reading autobiographies. I recently completed “Finding Me” by Viola Davis, “Living In Color” by Tommy Davidson, and “Just As I Am” by Cicely Tyson. Ms. Tyson’s book mentioned two people I am interested in reading more about – educator Marva Collins and actress Diahann Carroll. I am also reading finance books because knowing more about money is always great! I am reading “I Will Teach You to Be Rich” by Ramit Sethi and “Get Good With Money” by Tiffany Aliche.
JEI: If you could meet with any author, past or present, who would you choose and why?
DY: While in high school, I began reading all the books V.C. Andrews wrote. I loved how she told a story, but after her passing, I heard that she had left behind lots of unfinished material that a team of writers had finished. Since I read every series, I noticed that each had the same three elements – great wealth, incest (sometimes accidental), and a mean, hateful grandmother or aunt as an antagonist. I want to know if these elements existed in her real-life family. I also thought Bebe Moore Campbell was a fantastic storyteller. I remember reading her novel, “Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine,” and being fascinated at how she wove the characters together. I’d like to know more about her thought process when writing and creating characters.
JEI: Great suggestions to the reader in all of us! Thank you for joining me this month, De’Shawna!
For more information on De’Shawna Yamini, check out the following websites: