Mimicking the voice of a young boy, singer and actress Jill Scott read aloud from a children’s book on Netflix.
“I am Brown Boy Joy, always reaching for the sky,” Scott whispered excitedly. “I walk into a room with my head held high!”
As she read from “Brown Boy Joy,” one of three books written and published by Thomishia Booker, thousands of children across the country saw themselves reflected in a way that’s positive, playful — and powerful.
“When I began writing the children’s books, I wrote from my heart,” Booker told San José Spotlight. “These books are a message of love for my son… I want the world to see him the way that I do.”
Booker is the CEO of Hey Carter! Books — named after Booker’s 4-year-old son, Carter — and is the only self-published author featured in Netflix’s “Bookmarks,” a series in which celebrities such as Lupita Nyong’o and Tiffany Haddish read children’s books featuring Black characters and nurturing a positive self-image among Black children. Scott read “Brown Boy Joy” for the series’ eighth episode.
Born in San Jose, Booker earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology from California State University, East Bay and her master’s in social work from San Jose State University. She worked for eight years at Alum Rock Counseling Center while completing her doctorate in education counseling psychology.
The author said she’s always dabbled in writing, particularly scholarly works, including her dissertation on African American women and skin-color bias. But it wasn’t until she had her son that her work became more focused.
“I wanted to ensure that there was representation for boys that looked just like him,” Booker said. “My son was definitely my muse for the books and pushing forward my creativity.”
Booker, 36, was born at the Regional Medical Center off 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 being raised in a mixed-race family opened the door to a lot of difficult conversations. She also said that while the community she grew up in was predominately Black and brown, including Mexican and South American families, there was not a lot of positive representation.
“I had very few Black teachers, very few Black professionals in my life,” Booker said. “A lot of people in my neighborhood had difficulties with substances, and that impacted their lives in a lot of ways.”
Camille Hunt, one of Booker’s friends since high school, said Booker’s hard work and devotion to excellence inspired her to push toward greater goals.
“She’s always putting something together,” Hunt said. “Just by being around her, it causes you to really level up in your own life.”
Around the time when Booker’s son was a baby, Hunt recalled Booker calling her to express anxiety about raising a Black boy in a racist society.
“She was crying… she just said, ‘I’m afraid to bring this son into this life, into 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 this representation that she didn’t see growing up,” Hunt said. “That’s when the creativity really started going for her.”
In addition to positive representation in the community, it’s important for kids to see themselves reflected 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 and TV and professions to really understand and see your full potential.”
Booker published her first book, “My Brown Skin,” in September 2017. Prior to publishing, she sought feedback on the story and illustrations from several Black families and kids and making changes as needed.
Tyson Amir, author of “Black Boy Poems” and founding member of the authors’ group Black Literary Collective, said it was Booker’s drive and devotion to quality that first attracted him to her work. Amir met Booker at an author’s event and noticed her table was neatly organized with a lot of visuals.
“Impressions are important,” Amir said. “When I heard her speak about her work, I said ‘I like what she’s talking about.’”
Amir said his 7-year-old niece loves all three of the Hey Carter! books. And when the young girl saw “Brown Boy Joy” being read aloud by Scott on Netflix, she said that she wanted to meet the author.
“That’s so much a part of what we want to do,” Amir said. “For my niece, she’s going to be raised in a world where she’s constantly around authors of color who authentically speak about the experiences around them… And she knows some of these people.”
While building her business and inspiring the next generation of authors, artists and professionals, Booker still manages her full-time job as an administrator for the Alameda Health System in Oakland’s Highland Hospital.
“I’m an indie-published author, so a lot of the work I’ve done has been on my own,” Booker said, adding that completing her first book while managing motherhood and her full-time job was challenging.
“Being a Black woman with little resources, I struggled to finish that project,” she said. “But I gave it my all.”
Contact Sonya Herrera at [email protected] or follow @SMHsoftware on Twitter.