Being a parent in today’s world comes with its own unique set of complications and tough choices. It’s not enough to simply raise your children; you also need to help them grow into the people you hope they will become — good people; kind people. You need to raise babies, children, teens and young adults who will contribute positively to the world.
During a time when racial tension is growing, intolerance is increasing, hate is prevalent and fear of the unknown is crippling, it’s more important than ever to raise children who are alert to the injustices of the world, and who grow up ready to make a difference. Parents: your job description is mounting. It’s time to raise a woke baby, and author, poet, educator and activist Mahogany L. Browne’s new book Woke Baby is an empowering tool to help you teach activism beginning at a very young age.
What Does It Mean To Be Woke?
The slang term “woke” has become increasingly popular in recent years. You’ve probably heard this adjective used often by a younger generation. As in, “stay woke” or “I was sleeping, but now I’m woke.” It sounds like poor grammar upon first hearing it, but woke actually means social awareness; if you are woke you are aware of everything from social inequality to racism, and you are ready to think for yourself and seize justice. A 2016 NY Times article described woke as “the inverse of “politically correct.” If “P.C.” is a taunt from the right, a way of calling out hypersensitivity in political discourse, then “woke” is a back-pat from the left, a way of affirming the sensitive.”
And this state of being “woke” is not reserved for adults. If you ask author and poet Mahogany L. Browne, it’s a mindset and life lesson that should be instilled from a young age. Woke Baby is a celebration of the future of our world — of budding activists and progressive babies who will grow up to do great things. It’s a picture book of poetry and baby-friendly illustrations designed to instill a sense of joy and justice simultaneously, and it’s a dream for parents looking to start a conversation about social justice and activism from the very beginning of life.
We spoke with Mahogany L. Browne to hear about her latest work, Woke Baby, her mission to create a new generation of activists and global citizens and her passion for empowering our youth.
BL: How did you get from performance poetry and coordinating the 2016 Women of the World Poetry Slam to penning a children’s book?
MB: As a performing poet, I am constantly engaged with the page and the stage. So to coordinate an event of women performers to penning an illustrated poem for children, the reach didn’t seem foreign at all.
BL: What does “being woke,” mean to you?
MB: Being woke means being informed and constantly studying the world in which we are contributing to. It means ignoring the uncomfortable or digging into the ground with your own two hands to change the soil. It means unlearning behaviors that are destructive. It means relearning what equality really means. It means relearning what allyship really means. It means relearning what global citizenship looks like. It means being prepared to do the heavy lifting in communities, not just when our bank accounts, or our children’s schools are affected. And heavy lifting means deep listening and empathy. Not as a measure of being a good person, but as a measure of being a global citizen.
BL: How did you first come up with the idea of writing a poetry picture book about activism for children?
MB: As an active community member, I wanted to gift our young children with a piece of literature that could stand next to the classic children books with the themes of today. I wanted this book to sit next to Honey I Love and Goodnight Moon and The Giving Tree and Where the Wild Things Are and The Snowy Day. Those are books that changed the landscape of our lives as we understand the world and who we could become.
BL: Do you think it’s ever too early to teach your children about inequality and social injustice?
MB: It is never too early to talk about inequality. It is never too early to instill in these young minds the power they hold as they become sharp minds and young people. It is a disservice to the citizens we are raising to allow them to live in a bubble where empathy and compassion aren’t considered. This is the same reason you have adults who haven’t been aware of what happens outside of their perfectly sculpted, lawned communities the atrocities passed as education in impoverished neighborhoods. If we were taught in early childhood education classes “what happens to my neighbor is a threat to all of our humanity” — we would have more citizens concerned about the border issues and the lives lost there. But because it seems to not affect all of our backyards — some can easily brush it off as a fleeting thing. Our humanity is not fleeting. And books can arm our children with the kind of knowledge needed to remember that.
BL: What advice can you give parents who are trying to teach their children to be aware and to fight for justice, but who also want to protect their children’s innocence?
MB: I think there are levels to teaching our children about justice. If we are teaching babies about consensual hugs and body positivity, we can arm them with the basic tools to understand the power of their voice and self-love. If we are teaching them about speaking up for someone that is bullied or what it means to care about cleaning up the yard, we can arm them with the language needed in what it means to be a conscientious community member and learn the necessity of sustainable living methods.
BL: How do you hope that Woke Baby will change the conversation about racism among parents and young children?
MB: I think diversity in books for children is required when raising a young person. I’ve received pictures from folks that have bought Woke Baby for their white children and I think that’s great. Show our children what the world really looks like. We have different cultures and religions that should be learned and celebrated. For years I thought I was some type of oddity because my hair wasn’t the same texture as the books read to me in pre-K. When I found Eloise Greenfield’s Honey I Love — I was astounded. That hair looked like me! Those words danced with the same music of my home. To be a part of the conversation in a room with your peers is important. To see yourself and others as a dialogue, rather than a void in the pictures, is important to our cultural ecosystem.
BL: Do you have any other upcoming projects that you want people to know about?
MB: I’m so excited! Next year I have an anthology released of middle-grade poems in a book called Woke: A Young Poet’s Guide to Justice featuring the writing of Elizabeth Acevedo, Olivia Gatwood and myself. We tackle ideas of intersectionality and activism for younger people. It’s pretty dope. And I just completed my first YA Novel, it’s a novel in verse.