GUEST POST: How The Million Man March Inspired a Picture Book, by Kelly Starling Lyons

As soon as I heard about the Million Man March, I knew I had to go. My mission as a writer was to give voice to people whose stories too often go unsung. Here was the chance to feature young, African-American men and talk to them about what this March meant and why they wanted to come together and be counted.

At that time, there was so much negative news in the media – stories about gangs, about young men going to prison. I was excited about the chance to highlight something positive and show people a different picture. Everywhere I went, I heard men and teens asking each other: Are you going? They would show the world that one million black men could unite in peace, purpose and love.

Some journalist friends and I drove to Washington, D.C. from Syracuse, NY. We knew the March would be special. But nothing could have prepared us for what we saw. My skin tingled as we walked onto the Washington Mall and Black men covered the grounds like a beautiful tapestry. Rich and poor, young and old, men sang, hugged, laughed, rallied and prayed together.  There was peace all around.

The teens I interviewed told me that this day would stay with them forever. In school, they said, someone might be ready to fight if you bumped into them. But at the March, they told me, everyone said, ‘Excuse me, brother.” They talked about feeling inspired to go back home and make a difference. They were filled with so much hope.

I watched fathers – and mothers – walk with their arms around their sons. Those boys looked so proud to be part of history. Then, I saw a little girl walk past the Reflecting Pool clutching her daddy’s hand. Her eyes glittered like diamonds. She looked like a princess in a sea of kings. Those images spoke to me. I felt that fostering that closeness between father and child was part of what the March was about.

Years later when I began writing for children, the memory of that little girl and her dad came back to me. What if I imagined what the March was like for her? What if the little girl was the storyteller sharing the story of her dad and all of the men who made history that day? I named my character Nia, because I felt that she was there for a reason, just like me.

I was moved to write the story because all kids need positive images. Even today, there are too few stories that celebrate African-American dads and too many black history stories that remain untold. These are American stories that speak to the rich and diverse fabric of our people.

Writing One Million Men and Me was magical and meaningful. At first, I struggled. The words just wouldn’t flow. I second-guessed myself and wondered if I could do justice to something as amazing as the March. Then, inspired by black men I saw hugging and talking at a fatherhood conference, I gave it another try. I sat down at my computer and let Nia be my guide. Something electric happens when you surrender to the story. All of those feelings of pride, hope and love surrounded me as I saw the March and my character’s father through her eyes.

Today, I love going into schools and sharing One Million Men and Me. Often, I start with a slideshow of images from the March. Kids can’t believe how many men stood together. They point and gasp. They smile when they see the pictures of kids who were there too.

Then, before I read the story, I ask the children to share with me special times they’ve spent with fathers and father-figures. They talk about sweet moments like dancing with daddy, going for a ride with grandpa or fishing with an uncle. Then, I read the story and they get how wonderful Nia must have felt to be there with her father the day one million black men united as one.

To hear an excerpt on One Million Men and Me in French, click here! Click here for the Spanish version. 🙂

One Million Men and Me Book Trailer

About today’s guest:

Kelly Starling Lyons, a Pittsburgh native, is a children’s book author whose mission is to transform moments, memories and history into stories of discovery. One Million Men and Me was her first picture book. She is also the author of NEATE: Eddie’s Ordealand has two forthcoming picture books with G. P. Putnam’s Sons. The first, Ellen’s Broom, debuts January 2012. The second, Tea Cakes for Tosh, comes out that fall.

For more information on Kelly Starling Lyons, click on the following links:

Kelly’s Blog, Kuumba, for the complete schedule of her blog tour and to win prizes. The winners will be drawn on October 16!
Kelly’s Website
Kelly’s Facebook Page

Updated on 6/29/2011

Picture Book Anniversary: ONE MILLION AND ME, by Kelly Starling Lyons, Illustrated by Peter Ambush

Hi everyone!

Aujourd’hui Kelly Starling Lyons embarks on a blog tour, to celebrate the third anniversary of her book One Million Men and Me, illustrated by Peter Ambush and published by the amazing, independent publishing house: Just Us Books.

Fact: On October 16, 1995, Black men made history in America. Coming from all horizons, cultures and professional backgrounds, a multitude gathered at the Lincoln Memorial, in Washington, D.C. To borrow a sentence from the picture book, “They came to make changes, came to make themselves and their communities better.” The Nation of Islam leader, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, called it the Million Man March. His vision and initiative stroke a chord across the nation, and speakers such as Reverend Jesse Jackson, Mrs. Rosa Parks, Dr. Dorothy I. Height, Dr. Maya Angelou attended as well. The event has been described as a day full of respect, peace and love. It got a media coverage beyond American borders.

Today the aftermath of that march is still very much alive, and one of the bearers of its flame is none other than the remarkable picture book: One Million Men and Me.

The main character is a girl, and by girl I mean a princess. Notice the title? See how she isn’t lost in the crowd? How she’s found her place? Upon opening the book, the reader is greeted by the awareness of a little girl who senses that something important is about to happen. I enjoyed the voice Kelly Starling Lyons gave her main character. The child describes with simple yet powerful words what is happening around her. We are treated to the way the men relate to each other, we are invited to share a precious moment between a dad and his daughter. Thanks to the double-page spreads and gorgeous close-ups of Peter Ambush, we defy time and witness history being made all over again.

One Million Men and Me offers a great platform to celebrate the Civil Rights Movement while showcasing that change is made possible by people like you, me and a little girl who went to Washington, D.C. with her father fifteen years ago.

I would like to thank its author, Kelly Starling Lyons for her incredible generosity: She is our guest blogger this week and will share more about the inspiration behind One Million Men and Me this coming Thursday! 🙂

Join the party!

o Follow Kelly on her blog tour and enter for a chance to win t-shirts, posters and more! Show your support and enthusiasm by leaving comments on the blogs she will visit. As a matter of fact, today she is also featured on Together AsOne, a virtual haven that serves and celebrate the Black community.

o Kelly graciously donated a copy of One Million and Me. Thank you, Kelly! A lucky reader of the blog will be drawn on October 16 and win a copy of the book.

o Children are not left out of the festivities. Kelly’s blog will feature activities to download and enjoy. Day 1–today–is a coloring page of Nia and her dad. 🙂

On October 16, date marking the 15th anniversary of the Million Man March, Kelly will be at the International Civil Rights Center and Museum. Storytime and reading hour: 11 a.m.

One Million Men and Me is available in a bookstore near you and at your local library, on the shelves or ready to order!

About the Author
Kelly Starling Lyons, a Pittsburgh native, is a children’s book author whose mission is to transform moments, memories and history into stories of discovery. One Million Men and Me was her first picture book. She is also the author of NEATE: Eddie’s Ordealand has two forthcoming picture books with G. P. Putnam’s Sons. The first, Ellen’s Broom, debuts January 2012. The second, Tea Cakes for Tosh, comes out that fall.

For more information on Kelly Starling Lyons, click on the following links:
o Kelly’s Blog, Kuumba, for the complete schedule of her blog tour and to win prizes. The winners will be drawn on October 16!
o Kelly’s Website
o Kelly’s Facebook Page

Updated 10/18/2010 for giveaway winner
GIVEAWAY WINNER
And the winner is….

*drumroll*

Author Erin Dealy! Congratulations, Erin. Email sent regarding mailing arrangements. 🙂

Last update: 6/29/2011