Montreal Author Brings Black Representation To Children’s Literature

Every year during Black History Month, Akilah Newton and her brother Omari tour Canadian schools teaching about Canadian Black History.

This year in the 10th anniversary of their tour, the Montreal sibling duo will be presenting to 75 schools virtually. The tour teaches students about different aspects of Black history, from inspirational people such as Viola Desmond, retired senator Anne Clare Cools and Willie O'Ree, to forgotten Black communities in Canada.

Along with the tour, Newton started a non-profit called Overture with the Arts in 2009 which offers kids access to quality, low-cost programming so that they can pursue their passion in the performance arts. Since it began, approximately 50,000 youth have benefitted from their after-school programs and tours.

“I've always been drawn to working with kids because they have such curious minds and helping shape their minds is really important," she said in an article with CBC. "If you have that positive, lasting effect in their lives, they're going to go on and do great things and give back to the community."

Newton’s work for the community doesn’t stop there. When she realized there weren't many resources in school libraries about Canadian Black history, she decided to make her own. She co-wrote two volumes of Big Dreamers, the Canadian Black History Activity Book for Kids and has recently published her third book, Movers, Shakers, History Makers: The Canadian Black History Book of Rhymes.

“Representation really matters,” she said in an article with CTV News. “Kids need to see mirrors of them. People that look like them doing jobs they want to do so they can go on and dream these big dreams and accomplish greatness. Because if they see someone doing something they want to do that look like them, they'll know that it's possible. For me, to start young, we're shaping the minds of the future leaders of tomorrow.”

The rhyming educational verses have a storytelling flow and retells lessons from the past in tangible ways. The books highlight the achievements of Black Canadians whose stories are often left untold.

Newton said she mainly learned about Black history from her parents, who made sure there were books on Nelson Mandela, Harriet Tubman and other topics and historical figures in their home.

Her mother, who was a social worker, used to put on an annual youth talent show every February for children in the foster care system. The event was a celebration Black excellence, and she and her siblings attended the shows.

Newton sees the work she is doing now, in a way, as a continuation of the legacy her mom started.