Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Q & A with Khristi Lauren Adams Author of Parable of the Brown Girl

Author Q&A for Khristi Lauren Adams, author of Parable of the Brown Girl

  1. Where did you grow up /live now?

I grew up in East Brunswick, NJ. I have lived a few places; California, Washington, D.C, Virginia. Now I actually both live and work in Pottstown, PA at a boarding school called The Hill School. When I’m not at The Hill, I’m back in NJ with my family in East Brunswick. So, I like to say I live in both places; East Brunswick and Pottstown.

 2. When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? Or what first inspired you to write?

I used to enjoy writing plays and poetry when I was in college. I enjoyed seeing writing come to life on stage. I never thought about writing books until my Pastor (Buster Soaries) wrote his first book and one day said to me in casual conversation, “You know you should write a book.” I remember telling him that I didn’t have anything to write about and didn’t feel like I was an expert in anything. He said, “You write about what you know.” That stuck with me. At the time I didn’t think I knew anything, but I realized that I know what I know from my own experiences. It wasn’t long after that conversation that I wrote my first book.

 3. Where/When do you best like to write?

This is such a hard question! It depends on where I am mentally. My first book (which I self-published), I wrote in my apartment and out on the balcony in the hot sunny California weather, when I was off for the summer from work. This current book, I wrote a week after starting my new position at The Hill, where I was working 12 hour days and weekends. I had to find small windows to write and find spaces to get off campus to myself. I wrote in Starbucks and Panera Bread. I wrote in the school library. I wrote in the back of the classroom when my students were watching an in-class film. I wrote an hour before it was time for me to get dressed to start my day. There was no rhythm to this writing process. I wrote whenever I felt I had the space to.

4. Do you have any interesting writing habits or superstitions?

I prefer writing in places where there is a lot of “white noise.” There’s something about me being in the center of lots of activity that helps me focus. I also like listening to film scores when I write. I can’t listen to music with lyrics because my mind will start listening to the lyrics. There’s something inspirational about film scores.

 5. What inspired your book?

My inspiration is the dedication to my book: “For all the black girls who courageously shared their story, their wisdom and their truths with me. Society may put you on the margins, but you are at the center of God’s heart.” The book is written for the black girls who have been unable to give voice to their lived experiences. I say this because I have had many conversations and crossed paths with many black girls who have so much to offer the world, but the world refuses to listen to or see them. I promised myself that if I were ever given the platform, I would place these girls at the center.

6. What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book?

I was amazed by how consistent many of their struggles are with the stories I have heard from other black girls and women inter-generationally. I recognize their struggles and experiences in my own life. As I walked through the Smithsonian African-American History Museum and read about the lives of other black women and girls dating back to the 1500s, the cultural similarities were astonishing. Young black women in contemporary society are confronted with similar issues as many of those who have come before them.  

 7. How do your spouse/significant other/friends/family feel about your writing career?

My family and friends are very supportive and really just want us all to meet Oprah, so however that happens they’re okay with it. J

People resist by . . . telling their story.
—bell hooks1
Jesus Christ did some of his most valuable teachings in parables. His parables presented clear stories from everyday circum­stances where the listener would be met by the spirit of God alongside plain truths. In thinking on the times in my life when I have had those same profound encounters, those moments have undoubtedly been in my interactions and conversations with black girls. Consequently, I have often wondered what these parables would have looked like with black girls at the center. Parable of the Brown Girl explores the everyday lives of black girls and is written in a way that parallels some of the characteristics of the parables of the gospels. For starters, the names of Jesus’s parables usually empha­size an important feature of either the central character(s) of the parable or theme. In staying true to that manner, I created this book title with an emphasis on the color of the girls’ skin, which many would distinctly see as brown. I specifically use the phrase brown girl in the book and chapter titles to highlight the variety of hues the girls have in their skin complexions. However, when referencing the girls throughout the content of the book, I refer to them as black. Racially classified, they are black; aesthetically the girls are shades of brown.

In each place my career has taken me, I have had the opportunity to develop powerful relationships with black girls. My life has been significantly impacted for the better by listening to these girls. My conversations with them have changed how I see God and how I see the world around me. The first of these experiences happened when I graduated from college. I worked briefly at a residential treatment facil­ity where I was placed on a unit for teenaged girls suffering from severe emotional difficulties. Although I was only a twenty-one-year-old recent graduate who’d spent the previous four years of college studying adver­tising, the hiring process for this position as a residential counselor was effortless. However, the turnover rate for this position was at about 70 percent. I didn’t understand the reasons for this high percentage until I stepped foot onto the unit for the first time and looked into the faces of nine angry black girls. They were angry with the world around them for letting them down. They were angry for being left and forgotten in this jail-like facility in a remote corner of the country, and they wanted everyone they encountered to feel that same anger.

One night while completing my evening notes before my shift was over, I decided to take a look through some of the girls’ binders. Each had a binder full of notes written by the staff. The binders also contained background information on the girls. Each girl had her own story. I read nine-year-old Leticia had once been beaten with a baseball bat by her mom. I read ten-year-old India had been sexually abused by her own father. I read seven-year-old Nikki had been burned with cigarettes for misbehaving in the house. It was like perusing a book with pages no one would ever see. I remember feeling nauseous reading each of the horrifying stories. These girls were far more than bad kids who needed to be locked up in order to behave.

That was the first time I sensed the call God placed on my life to build relationships and work as an advocate for black girls who often find themselves on the margins. After learning their stories, everything about my entire approach to working with those nine girls changed. I spent the next few months getting to know each girl personally. I stopped treating the girls like a job or like they were inmates, and the girls began to let their guards down more and more. They nicknamed me “Advocate” because that was what they called staff they trusted.

It has been fifteen years since my time at that residential treatment facility. My career has taken me into a variety of spaces, and in each one, I have had the privilege to experience a group of black girls with vivacious spirits and colorful personalities. They each have a story to tell, just like the girls at the residential treatment facility at my first job. Typically, their lives are ones of amazing resilience while being discounted and overlooked, unseen and unheard. In my career, I have combined my education and pastoral practices to address the reality of black girls’ lives and experiences. I have been a teacher to black girls in educational settings. I have been a counselor to black girls in therapeutic settings. I have been a pastor to black girls in pas­toral settings. I have been a mentor to black girls in community-based settings. The stories in this book come from my experiences with black girls in each of those varied environments.

Through these experiences, I often imagine how any number of the girls I meet could find themselves in one of Jesus’s parables, the stories he used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson. He frequently focused his parables on the neglected and unnoticed, highlighting wisdom and strength where they had previously been ignored. These girls, too, are neglected and unnoticed. They are also wise and full of incredible strength. As Monique Morris writes, “The way forward is to listen to and incorporate the voices and experiences of young women who have been overlooked in the current discourse.”  Parable of the Brown Girl builds the way forward by celebrating the voices and expe­riences of black girls who have gone unseen for too long.

I hope readers will encounter the spirit of God within these girls’ stories just like they do through Jesus’s parables, which encour­aged others to reflect on spiritual truths through the lives of the overlooked. In their stories, the girls reflect on their circumstances, asking tough questions and finding ways to draw wisdom so they can make sense of God and the world around them. Their musings give insight into how God works through the minds of these young black girls, and every story demonstrates how God’s spirit works through each girl to convey a specific message. I hope the truth and wisdom found here changes how people treat each other. These girls’ stories are important to God—these girls are important to God—and they deserve attention.

These girls have been left to navigate adolescence and fight against systemic inequalities on their own, leaving their stories overlooked, ignored, and on the margins of the public discourse. Yet this book centers their experiences so their circumstances can reso­nate with people, no matter their ethnicity, race, faith, or background. Everyone will learn something from these girls’ stories, questions, and conclusions. As Christie Cozad Neuger says, “Parables are about people having their ordinary lives respected and valued as a way to experience God.”3 I intend to prioritize these girls and their experi­ences so everyone will begin to respect and value their existence, and to experience God in a richer, more beautiful way.

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