I FLY WITH PAPA
A black girl journeys with the God she calls Papa and expresses her emotions in a relationship steeped in love and freedom.
I AM A STORYELLER, POET, EDUCATOR, SPIRITUAL DIRECTOR, CONSULTANT, AND PROFESSOR. I
believe children can teach us how to cultivate a meaningful relationship with God. Children of all hues can show us that God journeys with us through every emotion and season of our lives. God embraces our feelings and acknowledges our experiences. God is not as stuffy as we often make God out to be. God knows how to play with us, laugh with us, be silly with us, and fly with us.
I believe we can allow God to help us revel in unfathomable joys, heal our hurts, and redress inequity. May children discover the God who will stand by them and nurse them through the lessons and experiences of life.
I believe we can experience our communal lives together with the God who knows us intimately — warts and all. It amazes me that we can be co-partners with the God who loves to be known and loved. I hope that children of all ages can learn to love themselves, God, and others for the greater good of humanity.
I love to spend time with the God I call Papa—my best friend, confidant, and the essence of love in my life. Alongside my readers, I soar with the possibilities available to all when I choose to fly with Papa again, and again, and again . . .
I THINK IT IS ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT THAT CHILDREN BE ALLOWED TO DREAM and feel their emotions and develop a curiosity about why they feel what they feel. Our emotions marry with our first breath. We are born crying. We are born with the ability to feel. We have to unlearn the message that encourages us to numb ourselves to our emotions. Studies are finding that children as young as kindergarten experience anxiety. Fears shadow us, abide in us, and consume us. But children's curiosity, imagination, playfulness, and ability to express emotions in liberating ways is not lost.
I WAS AROUND FIVE WHEN I ENCOUNTERED RACISM FOR THE FIRST TIME. Until we moved to a diverse urban neighborhood, my brother and I were the only black children who attended our school. We did not know how to process the racism we experienced. My brother and I were confused and afraid. We did not want to worry our parents and so we told no one about the racial slurs children hurled at us as we walked home from school. Our church and school failed to create spaces where we could talk about our encounters with racism.
I do not want children to hide their feelings and experiences from God when they do not know what to do. I do not want children to lose sight of their imagination and their ability to dream as they encounter trauma.
As an adult, I began to wonder how children can learn to experience emotions at an early age with the God of love that liberates us to be fully ourselves. I don't recall anyone in Sunday school ever telling me that I could be mad at God or share my doubts with God or have fun with God or ask God questions. I want children to be free enough to speak their minds and listen radically to God in ways that make sense to them.
I purposefully do not explain the reasons behind Winnie's emotions because I do not want her feelings to be fixed to one experience. I want her and children and adults alike to be free to experience their emotions without inhibition. I also want them to be able to identify why they feel what they feel.
In step with the spirit of freedom, I wanted Winnie to explore her emotions on her own terms. Winnie dares to live a life of outrageous emotional bravery without shame or embarrassment. As a smart, witty, gorgeous, curious, fun, serious, and artistic seven-year-old black girl, Winnie refuses to rein in her feelings to a set of emotions as she joins this sacred relational dance with Papa. I love that Winnie does not have to be nice or smile when she communicates with Papa.
I love that Winnie can be goofy and revel in holy silliness with Papa. I love that Winnie can be sad and angry and have questions and not look to others to rubber stamp her emotions as legitimate. I love that Winnie and Papa can wallow in introvert heaven and be silent and content just to be.
Some may relate to Winnie's experiences and others will not. Winnie does not speak for every child, gender, or individual. She is unburdened by having to shoulder the responsibility of representing all peoples. Still, there will be many who will be inspired by her journey with Papa.
I AM SURROUNDED BY AN EXTRAORDINARY TEAM AT WISEINK, a company who places the art and vision of an author at the center of its mission. This company is co-owned by women I absolutely love and support. To have a seasoned African American businesswoman and entrepreneur shepherd the publication of my book has been a dream. The WiseInk team is made up of consummate professionals. They are kind, hard working, and not so business driven that they lose sight of the personal touch. Though I could have published my book with the publishing houses, I decided to publish with a company willing to invest time and energy into holistically nurturing my life as a black female author. As writer, I feel seen, heard, cherished, and valued by the staff at WiseInk and that is a new experience for me in the publishing world.
My incredible illustrator, Jena Holliday, is a storyteller in her own right. Her creative mind astounds me. She is a fierce African American female artist whose love for humanity abounds in her illustrations. I consider it a privilege to work with such a talented and young visionary artist.