Sheri Booker spent much of her time during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown watching the news.
But it wasn’t news about the latest COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations that most caught her attention. It was the deaths of women and girls in Baltimore to violence that she began to empathize with.
In 2020, the year the pandemic began, 49 women were killed in Baltimore, or 14.6% of all homicide victims. Ala’junaye Davis, who was only 16 when she was shot while riding in a car, is just one of the people slain that year that Booker heard about. During that time, Booker wrote a poem, “Imagine a Brown Girl,” to express her sorrow over all of those deaths.
It was also what inspired her to write her recently released children’s book by the same name. “Imagine a Brown Girl” is about a young girl who was born in Baltimore and is exploring the world and what she can become in it, whether that’s becoming president or a football player.
The recent death of 13-year-old Kelsey Washington, an innocent bystander fatally shot outside of a Baltimore liquor store earlier this month, has only made her realize even more why she wrote the book.
“Outside doesn’t feel as safe as it should be,” Booker said. “I’m really always thinking about the young Black women in and out of our city and what we can do for them.”
Booker believes there is a lack of children’s books that appeal directly to Black girls, and she hopes “Imagine a Brown Girl” breaks that pattern. Being from Baltimore herself, she based the book in the city because she wants women in the city to feel represented.
“You know, I think of books like Tiger Mom and all of these other stories, but I can’t think of too many books of a Black mom just telling her story outside of celebrity memoirs,” she said. “Just regular everyday people that have dynamic stories. We’re not represented in that space and we don’t have the space to do that.”
The empowerment of women has been a passion for Booker for as long as she can remember. She moved to South Africa in 2007 to work with her friend, Maggie Messitt, who was the founding director of Amazwi, a media arts school for African women.
“She gives 500% of herself to other people every single day,” Messitt said. “She comes with the same spirit, no matter what she has going because that’s just the type of person she is. She just wants to be there for others.”
“Imagine a Brown Girl” was self-published, and Booker aspires to become a publisher of works of other Black women.
Booker is a new mom to an 18-month-old daughter, whom many would assume “Imagine a Brown Girl” is about. The book was actually finished two months before Booker knew she was pregnant, but she does believe her daughter is the manifestation of the book. Booker hopes her daughter and all other young Black girls will become avid readers, and understand the importance of not limiting themselves to just what they see and experience.
Booker has wanted to write a children’s book for awhile, especially after 2015 when Freddie Gray died from injuries suffered in police custody. She was living in Atlanta and watched her hometown “burn on a television screen.”
“For this book, I wanted it to be a little girl from the inner city of Baltimore,” she said. ”That’s why on the first page it starts with ‘Somewhere on a city block, a brown girl is waiting for the street lights to come on so she can dream in peace.’”
While writing the book, Booker thought about all the young Black girls who have been a part of her life.
Cori Grainger, a former student of Booker’s at the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, said that Booker was like an aunt or a big sister that she could confide in, so much so that she looked forward to the class every day.
“She inspires as she continues to make a name for herself by just following her dreams and passions,” Grainger said.
Booker also helps young Black girls through the SWAGG Academy, which stands for Success & Wisdom Awaiting Good Girls. She works to equip young girls with tools that will prepare them for immediate and long-term success in life.
“It’s pivotal for Black girls and women to be filled with all of these great ideas,” she said. “That’s why I have to include her being the president or a Supreme Court justice in the book because what we know is when a Black woman uses her voice, that she has the power to heal, the power to birth ideas, the power to help unite, the power to change the world.”