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Communication professor, Rokeshia Renné Ashley, tackles colorism in children’s book inspired by her research

Playtime outdoors is always full of adventures, but it is also a time when girls with more melanin are encouraged to stay indoors for fear they may become too dark. Black and Brown girls are socialized to hide from the sun to maintain or have a fairer complexion, rather than seeking out the sun as a nutrient. SunFlower Child changes this narrative.

CARTA caught up with FIU Communication faculty member, Dr. Rokeshia Renné Ashley, to discuss her first children’s book that stemmed from her dissertation research.

What inspired you to write SunFlower Child?
SunFlower Child was inspired by my experiences growing up in Little Haiti and Liberty City, and my dissertation research collected in South Florida that focused on skin whitening as a health and cultural practice. In my research, I found that women who use skin whitening products hide from the sun to maintain their complexion or reduce the chances of having lasting health impacts from using the products. My research was published in the Howard Journal of Communications.

What do you hope this book will achieve with children and the broader community?
SunFlower Child challenges the reinforcement of colorism by offering a celebration of Black girlhood and provides a remedy for colorism and color caste systems to encourage Black and Brown girls to love, care for, and protect their skin. I hope this book starts the conversation for families to have real talks about the effects of racism and teach them about the benefits of our skin. Our melanin is magic, it protects our skin from harmful sun rays and because we have more melanin we are at lower risk for skin-related illnesses, like skin cancer. Secondly, showing our children positive depictions of girls who look like them will likely increase their own self-confidence and self-image.

Why is it so important to share stories like these with the next generation?
Not only does SunFlower Child help mend strong societal ailments of our community by uplifting our Black and Brown girls, but it highlights what kids do in the city, and pays homage to the soil that sprouted me. Our young people should be exposed to our culture and to see our ourselves in the literary works of our own that can be shared around the world will greatly empower them. All of the spaces illustrated in the book are reminiscent of my youth, featuring illustrations inspired by landmark places in Little Haiti and Liberty City. I remember spending all day at Charles Hadley pool or racing my friends and cousins down the street near Zubi Supermarket, much like the experiences of girls in the area today. SunFlower Child embraces these moments and spaces.

You can purchase SunFlower Child at www.sunflowerchildmiami.com  and follow the story on Facebook and Instagram: @KeshiaPhD and @SunFlower_Child_Miami.

View Dr. Ashley’s NBC 6 interview.

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