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Author Daphne Brown hopes to inspire interest in reading in African American youth with new children’s book on life of Oprah Winfrey

Author Daphne Brown and the cover of her new children's book, “Oprah Winfrey: From Jim Crow to Billionaire.”

“Seventy percent of African American children aren’t reading at grade level throughout the United States … it’s worse in Wisconsin and Minnesota,” Daphne Brown tells Madison365. “Overall, it’s very tough. I go into some of the classrooms with fifth graders and they can’t read … and that just breaks my heart. Because what are you going to do if you can’t read? I know that through the promotion of reading efficiency and having imagery of books on the bookshelf of characters that look like them, this will help them be interested and enjoy reading and to enjoy lifelong learning. I’m hoping my new book will do that.”

Brown is on a mission to inspire African American children to read and excel in school. The former Madisonian, who now lives in Minneapolis, is a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) strategist, educator, professional speaker and author who has just written a children’s book called “Oprah Winfrey: From Jim Crow to Billionaire.”

The book chronicles the life of one of America’s most famous and inspiring people, Oprah Winfrey, who just happens to be related to Brown.

“For me, this is cathartic because Oprah Winfrey is my cousin. We share the same great-grandmother…. So I feel like I’m the best person to write about her,” Brown says. “It’s really kind of a synopsis of her life. She grew up under Jim Crow and was raised by her grandmother until she was about eight years old.  And then she went to live with her mother in Milwaukee and had a lot of struggles there and eventually she went to live with her father because of those troubles. It was there where she really became a superstar.”

She talks about Oprah’s girls’ school, her famous TV show, and her rise to fame while becoming the first Black woman billionaire in the world.

“This is a ‘shero’ story, and it’s very positive. It makes me so happy to write this because I want kids to have heroes and say, ‘You know what? She came from these bad circumstances and look what she did!’ I tell the story in a matter-of-fact way,” Brown says.

Brown adds that she is targeting the book to 3rd-6th graders, although she says she could see both younger and older children enjoying it.

“I have the manuscript done. I have a few little tweaks that I want to do and then I will send it off to be printed,” she says.

The impetus for the book came from her work as a teacher and seeing the lack of proficiency in reading amongst her Black students, something she says is a result of many factors including a lack of representation in books.

“I’ve been substitute teaching on and off probably for about 10 years in Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota, and I have a heart for children. I will tell you that our African American children are failing with their proficiencies in all areas. Matter of fact, Wisconsin is the worst and Minnesota is second [worst] in the United States,” Brown says. “So what I wanted to do as an author and a writer and someone who loves children is to write a book because they need representation. They need to see imagery of themselves when the books are read …. and there’s not a whole lot of that. 

“When I teach, I’m often the only Black teacher there. And when I come in, they just run to me,” Brown adds. “Representation matters and even that makes a huge difference.”

Brown, who earned a dual master’s degree in management/health and human services administration and a master’s degree in human development from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota, remembers fondly living in Madison and Sun Prairie and raising her two children here, before moving the Minneapolis about 14 years ago. She still has many lifelong friends and connections here.

“There are so many people in Madison that I’m still friends with today.  What I remember so fondly about Madison was Dane Dances on the Monona Terrace Rooftop. And I love the lakes … they are absolutely beautiful,” Brown says. 

“I went to Mt. Zion Church in Madison and that was a beautiful church with beautiful people. I was very good friends with [the late Umoja Publisher] Milele Chikasa Anana, I remember going out to eat with her all the time,” she adds.

It was during her time in Madison that she authored her first book, Spiritual Healing for a Woman’s Soul. 

Brown says that she has many friends in the Madison area who are supporting her new book. She is looking to the community to help with the costs of printing and promotion and has made a vow that if people are able to donate $100 or more, she will place their name in the book as a supporter of literacy for African American children.

“When I wrote my first book I did it all on my own thing. But here’s why I’m asking people for the $100: I wanted them to feel like it’s a community effort. I want them to feel like they’re making a difference.”  

Those donations can be made through PayPal or if people prefer, Brown says, they can send can check or money order to Daphne Brown, 1930 Hennepin Avenue South #312, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55403.

“I see this as a community effort to fundamentally help our children with literacy, interest in reading, comprehension and representation with images that reflect who they are,” Brown says. “I am asking the community to help me publish, print and market this very important book.”

“I want the community to be behind the book. So when I come to Madison or go to Chicago or Peoria, Ill., my hometown, or these other places to travel around to support the book, I want the kids to be so excited. I’m very passionate about this and I’m hoping to make a difference.”