One of our favorite parts of Zuventurez is seeing our Fellows continue to impact the world around them with their passion and dreams. We had the privilege of inviting a ZV Fellow and APU alumna (recently featured in Black Enterprise and Forbes) to guest blog for us this week.
Jennifer Vassel, MA ‘12, MBA ‘18, is the author and founder of “I Am Unique!” A children’s book series and empowerment brand that inspires girls to overcome their insecurities so they can share their unique gifts and do more of what sets their soul on fire. In 2016, Jennifer placed third place in Azusa Pacific University’s startup pitch competition, Zuventurez PITCH.
Take it away Jennifer...
With the work I’m doing with “I Am Unique!,” I’ve noticed a need in the marketplace to create stories with representative characters that showcase their strengths and struggles. There’s something about being able to see yourself reflected in the content you consume – especially when you’re a child and your mind and worldview are being shaped every second of the day. If our stories are not told, then we assume the experience is not relevant to others and we begin to feel we are alone in the struggle. I’ve come to realize that we are never alone - we just need more representation in children’s literature (and beyond). Here are 3 reasons why:
1. IT GIVES OTHERS PERMISSION TO DREAM BIGGER.
Writing and sharing our stories for the next generation has nothing to do with us, but everything to do with the people waiting to hear it. If we don’t see something, we oftentimes assume it does not exist. That’s when we start putting limits on our lives and operating beneath our God-given potential. It takes courage to get out of our own way and share our stories in its truest and most authentic form. When we do so, we begin to light a fire within others to do the same.
2. IT HUMANIZES THE EXPERIENCE.
Kids oftentimes don’t see or meet the people who have written the books they’ve read. I remember a mother bought a copy of “I Am Unique!” and later called me to say how excited and surprised her daughter was to know that she had met an author in real life. She thought “all authors were dead”! When kids see others who look like them, in spaces or careers they’ve never seen them occupy before, it opens their eyes and mind to the possibilities available in their own lives. Now, a seed has been planted in that little girl.
3. IT BOOSTS SELF-ESTEEM AT AN EARLY AGE.
When I was growing up, I didn’t come across any children’s books out there with characters who looked like me addressing the insecurities I faced. I felt alone, and can only imagine how kids today must feel with the constant messaging from social media, peers, television, etc. influencing their perceptions of beauty, success, and career choices.
I was at an event a couple years ago sharing the mission behind “I Am Unique!” When I was done, a woman approached me with tears in her eyes, telling me how much my story was an inspiration. She still struggles with loving her natural hair due to a bad experience she had when she was a child. If we share relevant stories with our youth at an early age, it will help them grow into confident adults who are not carrying the trauma they faced when they were younger. They would have had the time to build their self-esteem and grow to embrace who they truly are.
All in all, representation matters. When we see ourselves positively depicted in the content we consume, we are fueled to go after our dreams - relentlessly and unapologetically.
What are some other reasons why representation is important in children’s literature (and beyond)?
To learn more about Jennifer, visit www.iamuniquebook.com and follow @IAmUniqueBook on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.