Author Ajamou Butler says spoken word poetry saved his life.
“I’ve learned to define myself through spoken word,” Butler says. “It’s a language for me. It’s an art. It’s an expression. It’s peace of mind. It’s prayer.”
The Milwaukee native, activist and founder of Heal the Hood, has taken his poetry talents and transferred those words into inspirational messages for children 4-10 years old.
His two-part children’s book, “Destined to Be Me,” was released this month.
He wanted to write the books, one version for girls and one version for boys, because as an educator he saw a disconnect in literacy in elementary age students. He has watched poetry sharpen his thought process and wants children to play with rhyming and word development.
Butler says he wants to capture children at a young age because it is “better to build young men than to repair old men,” he says.
“If I can capture them with social emotional esteem, if I can capture them with positive affirmations, if I can capture them with images that look like themselves — their safety, their different shades of brown, different shades of blackness. If I can infuse in them ideas to start thinking about what they want to do for the future — become a biologist, become an astronaut, become a motivational speaker, become an entrepreneur. If we can start that process at the stage before they get to 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 and adulthood, I think it will give society a better chance,” Butler says.
He also says he wants black children to see positive images of themselves in books, citing a 2019 St. Catherine University study that showed only 10% of children’s books had children with black faces while white children and animals made of 77% of the illustrations.
He wanted to create a book that was filled with different images, different shades and different variations he says.
“We have to begin to speak to the psyche of the black child,” Butler says. “We have to begin to reinforce with positive imagery and positive word place, greatness in black children. In the book we have little curvy girls — you know, they’ve got some hips forming and everything. We have a nappy hair kid, we have a red haired kid who is disabeled.”
He met the illustrator Jasmine West four years ago and describes her illustrations as “jaw-dropping.”
Once while Butler was teaching a class at Marquette University, West was in the back of the class and drawing whatever came to her mind — the images she produced in that small window with no planning were so powerful Butler used them on the diplomas for students when the semester ended.
Butler used other local connections to make the book come to fruition — for example, the consulting firm which handled his speaking engagements, editing, book launch and long term vision was RBJ Community Consulting, run by his sister Rashida Butler Jackson.
And his publisher Kendrick Watkins was formally the president of the Black Student Union at Milwaukee Area Technical College.
Destined to be me is available at ajamoubutler.com.