Justice Makes a Difference: The Story of Miss Freedom Fighter, Esq., written by Dr. Artika Tyner and her mother, Jacklyn Milton, won the 2020 Minnesota Author Project Award (Communities Create). The award celebrates Minnesota organization and communities producing written works. It is the story of eight-year-old Justice who learns from books given to her by her grandmother, the important lesson that anyone can be an agent of change no matter what their age.

Kathryn Schleich: What was your reaction when you learned Justice Makes a Difference had won the 2020 MN Authors Award?

Dr. Artika Tyner: It brought joy to my heart. Over the years, we have been working diligently to promote literacy and diversity in books behind the scenes. It has been a difficult journey to publish books, fund our projects, build strategic partnerships, and raise awareness about why diverse books matter. This public recognition reminded me to keep pressing forward. We have now expanded our network of superheroes for justice. Together, we are promoting literacy and diversity in books.

We are also excited to build partnerships with the other honorees. This is a remarkable group of talented authors and change agents. We also look forward to partnering with local libraries for programming, book readings, and adding our books to their collection.

KS: Justice is a wonderful book, not only highlighting diversity and literacy, but some important lessons in African American history. How will this award help your organization, Planting People Growing Justice™ Leadership Institute (PPGJLI), to continue to promote its powerful message?

AT: This award and the monetary prize will help us to get more books and educational materials in the hands of children. Our goal is to reach 100,000 youth through our books, virtual readings, youth leadership summits, and educational opportunities. We are moving closer to achieving this goal every day.

KS: You mentioned one new project includes a reflection journal of African Women leaders for youth and teens, African Women Leading Change. You edited the book along with Monica Habia, whom you collaborated with on Amazing Africa: A to Z. Describe the message you want to send with this book.

AT: The contributions of women as leaders are often overlooked. Leadership studies tend to focus on a few “great men” like President Washington or Socrates. This narrative excludes the experiences of women and diverse communities. Leadership is described as being about a position, title, and exercise of power. Based upon my cultural roots, I am reminded that leadership is really about community. It is reflected in our shared humanity and common destiny. Women play a critical role in community-building. My new book will explore the role of African women leaders in building a more just and inclusive society. I hope the book will inspire young women across the world to be bold and fearless as they lead change.

“I urge you to be fearless about the future. Just because something has not been done yet, doesn’t mean it can’t be.” –Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

KS: When is the planned publication date?

AT: This book will officially be released in March 2021, in honor of Women’s Month.

KS: What will readers learn from this new book?

AT: Readers can expect to learn about women who have made a difference in the world. I am committed to sharing about the rich cultural history and heritage of the continent of Africa. African women leaders have inspired me to be bold, courageous and strong during my leadership journey. Each day, I walk in the boldness of Queen Nanny, the courage of Yaa Asantewaa, and the strength of Queen Nzinga.

KS: How do you decide what topics to write books on? You have already written so many on diverse topics – Amazing Africa: From A to Z, Joey, and Grandpa Johnson’s Day in Rondo, Kofi Loves Music – among others. Every book is so educational and beautifully illustrated, they are a treat to read.

AT: The book topics emerge as a part of my learning process. Each day, I seek to learn something new. Instead of asking the typical greeting of “how are you?” I ask, “what are you reading?” I recall a fond memory of a little girl sharing about the book, Betty Before X. It was one of my favorite reads of 2019 as I learned more about the powerful advocacy of Dr. Betty Shabazz.

Reading opens our hearts and minds while unleashing the curiosity of learning. I have been on this quest since I was a child. My favorite place to visit was my grandmother’s house. She had a den full of books. She would always buy me new books during our weekly shopping trip to the thrift store. My grandmother planted that seed of learning. Still today, I seek to remain open to learning about cultures, history, law and policies. I share the gift of learning through my books.

KS: PPGJLI has a new space – congratulations on that as well. What is your vision as this comes together?

AT: The new Writer’s Retreat Center will be called: Aya’s Place. Aya is inspired by the Adinkra symbol which means reconciliation, and this aligns with our goal of racial justice. We will work with creatives who are passionate about promoting racial justice and healing. The space will be available for writers to pause, reflect and grow.

Our goal is to inspire writers to re-imagine the world they want to live in and help to build it. The retreat center will be operated and managed by PPGJLI, which is a nonprofit.

Lilu Interiors has partnered with us to design the space in Minnesota and our prototype in Ghana. We will be launching our writer’s space in the U.S. in 2021 and Ghana in 2022. LiLu has selected the Writer’s Retreat Center as a special pro bono project.

KS: Who inspires your work?

AT: My mother always stresses the importance of literacy and servant leadership. She ran a home-based learning center for over two decades. She taught countless children how to read. Through her efforts, she connected children to a world of infinite possibilities through the power of learning. Today, she continues to advocate for children and volunteer in the community.

KS: Are there any other projects coming up?

AT: Four new children’s books will be released soon and well as the following books: Leadership Strategies for Advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion will be released in 2021 (American Bar Association);  Akua is Great, a board book with positive daily affirmations will be released in February 2021. I am also partnering with Li’L Queens project and will deliver books to Ghana in 2021.

KS: You have a lot on your plate! Congratulations on the 2020 MN Authors Award and I look forward to talk more about your upcoming projects.

Dr. Artika R. Tyner is a passionate educator, author, sought after speaker, and advocate for justice. At the University of St. Thomas School of Law, Dr. Tyner serves as a law professor and founding director of the Center on Race, Leadership and Social Justice. She is committed to training students to serve as social engineers who create new inroads to justice and freedom. View Dr. Tyner’s recent EDTalks presentation: Learn to Read, Learn to Lead.

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