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by Sonya Herrera November 24, 2020
Jill Scott mimics a boy’s voice and reads aloud from a children’s book on Netflix.
“I’m Brown Boy Joy and I’m always reaching for the sky,” Scott whispered excitedly. “I’m going into a room with my head held high!”
While reading from “Brown Boy Joy,” one of three books written and published by Thomishia Booker, thousands of children across the country saw themselves reflected in positive, playful and powerful ways.
“When I started writing children’s books, I wrote from the bottom of my heart,” Booker told San Jose Spotlight. “These books are a message of love for my son … I want the world to see him the way I do.”
Booker is the CEO of Hey Carter! Books – named after Booker’s 4-year-old son, Carter – is the only self-published author on Netflix’s Bookmarks, a series where celebrities like Lupita Nyong’o and Tiffany Haddish read children’s books in black and Cultivate Positive Self-Image Among Black Children. Scott read “Brown Boy Joy” for the eighth episode of the series.
Jill Scott holds up a copy of “Brown Boy Joy,” the second book by Thomishia Booker, about the Netflix series “Bookmarks”. Screenshot by Sonya Herrera.
Booker was born in San Jose and received her bachelor’s degree in sociology from California State University at East Bay and her master’s degree in social work from San Jose State University. She worked at the Alum Rock Counseling Center for eight years while doing her PhD in Educational Counseling Psychology.
The author said she was always into writing, especially academic work, including her dissertation on African American women and skin color. But it wasn’t until she had her son that her work became more focused.
“I wanted to make sure there was a showroom for boys who look exactly like him,” said Booker. “My son was definitely my muse for the books and drove my creativity.”
Booker, 36, was born at the Regional Medical Center on McKee Road in San Jose. She and her two sisters were raised by a single mother and lived in the area until Booker finished middle school.
Her mother is biracial, and Booker said raising a multiracial family opened the door to many difficult conversations. She also said that the community she grew up in was predominantly black and tan, including Mexican and South American families, but didn’t give much positive representation.
“I’ve had very few black teachers, very few black professionals in my life,” said Booker. “A lot of people in my neighborhood have had trouble with substances and it has affected their lives in many ways.”
One of Booker’s friends since high school, Camille Hunt said that Booker’s hard work and dedication to excellence inspired her to achieve greater goals.
“She’s always putting something together,” said Hunt. “Only when you are around her will you really ascend in your own life.”
Around the time Booker’s son was a baby, Hunt remembered Booker calling her to express her concern about raising a black boy in a racist society.
“She was crying … she was just like, ‘I’m scared of bringing this son into this life, this world that will treat him differently,'” Hunt said. “It just broke my heart.”
Hunt said when Booker learned Carter’s sex she decided to switch gears.
“She knew she had this responsibility to bring that representation that she didn’t see growing up,” said Hunt. “Then the creativity really started for her.”
In addition to being positive in the community, it’s important for kids to see themselves positively in movies, books, and other media, Booker said.
“It was difficult growing up and not seeing myself in positive images,” she said. “You need to see yourself represented in books and stories, as well as on television and in jobs, to truly understand and see your full potential.”
Booker published her first book, My Brown Skin, in September 2017. Before it was released, she asked several black families and children for feedback on the story and illustrations, and made changes if necessary.
Tyson Amir, author of Black Boy Poems and a founding member of the Black Literary Collective, said it was Booker’s drive and dedication to quality that first drew him to her work. Amir met Booker at a writers’ event and noticed that her table was neatly organized with lots of pictures.
“Impressions are important,” said Amir. “When I heard her talk about her work, I said, ‘I like what she’s talking about.'”
Amir said his 7 year old niece loved all three Hey Carter! Books. And when the young girl saw Scott read “Brown Boy Joy” on Netflix, she said she wanted to meet the writer.
“It’s so much part of what we want to do,” said Amir. “For my niece, she will grow up in a world where she is constantly with color writers who speak authentically about the experiences around her … and she knows some of those people.”
As Booker builds her business and inspires the next generation of writers, artists and professionals, she still manages her full-time job as administrator for the Alameda Health System at Oakland’s Highland Hospital.
“I’m an indie-published writer, so much of the work I did was solo,” Booker said, adding that finishing her first book was challenging while managing motherhood and her full-time job.
“As a black woman with few resources, I struggled to complete this project,” she said. “But I gave everything.”
Contact Sonya Herrera at [email protected] or follow @SMHsoftware on Twitter.