Watching her 7-year-old cousin experience colorism inspired Naomi Winston to start creating coloring books with the purpose of helping others embrace their skin.

Winston recalled recently on “CBS Mornings” taking her younger cousin to the park but the child saying she did not want to get out of the car because, “I don’t want to get too dark.”

At that time, Winston was a sophomore at Xavier University in New Orleans.

“It shocked me, but it also brought back so many of my own feelings of inadequacy about my skin color that I didn’t outgrow until I was 18 and at my HBCU,” said Winston, who had also experienced colorism, or discrimination from other Black people because of her darker skin tone. “I knew at that moment that I didn’t want that for her. I didn’t want her to wait 11 years to feel like she belonged in a space.”

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Two months later, Winston published her first book, and her publishing company Revolutionary Hearts Industries was born. The company is a “culturally representative education resource that curates immersive learning through coloring books and hands-on artistic experiences,” she explained.

“I made them [coloring books] with curated images and affirmations to showcase the beauty, strength and community of Black womanhood,” the Mount Vernon resident explained.

“For me, this medium is effective in encouraging diversity because, with the decreasing art budgets in schools and increased need for SEL [social, emotional, learning] tools, our coloring books create safe and educational spaces for children to ask questions, experience community and express themselves creatively,” Winston said. “We do more than design coloring books, we create the physical manifestation of communities, storytelling and safe spaces.”

Fast-forward four years, and Winston, now 23, has authored 14 books — including a dozen coloring books as part of The Creative Representation Empire series. She has worked with educators in six states to get her books included in schools. Her company does digital licensing and custom books. The company has also worked with several Native American organizations to better represent their communities.

Through a line of coloring books, Naomi Winston wants to create “mirrors of representation” for Black and Brown kids and “coils of understanding” for children to educate themselves about other cultures.
Through a line of coloring books, Naomi Winston wants to create “mirrors of representation” for Black and brown kids and “coils of understanding” for children to educate themselves about other cultures. (Courtesy: Naomi Winston)

Winston, who has no graphic design experience, does all of the illustrations for the books. In fact, she hand drew the first 20 pages of her first coloring book. Winston features real people in her coloring books as opposed to fictional characters, so her readers can better relate to what they are feeling.

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“It’s about creating communities through coloring books,” said Winston, a native of Thibodaux, Louisiana.

“I don’t create coloring books, I create opportunities to be seen,” she said.

In addition to creating “portals of opportunities” for Black and brown kids to be seen, Winston said, her books provide “portals of understanding” for people not of those communities.

Last month, Winston and her work was featured on “CBS Mornings” where she was interviewed by Gayle King for the show’sChanging the Game” segment.

Being featured on ‘CBS Mornings’ was an incredible experience that I still have not had the opportunity to put into words,” she said. “I have worked on my company with sweat and many tears along the way. To be recognized on national TV for a business that I started my freshman year of college was a true dream. I am so excited for what the exposure will not only mean for my company as we continue to grow but for all of the communities we will be able to uplift as a result.”

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The appearance coincided with Winston quitting her day job in the tech industry to pursue The Creative Representation Empire (TCRE) full-time.

In advance of her new endeavor, Winston answered questions from The Baltimore Banner. Her answers have been edited for length and clarity.

What can everyday Americans do to increase their cultural competency?

To increase cultural competency, everyday Americans can spend time on learning about cultural, religious, and regional practices to understand different perspectives. Either through social media or those around us, we can all take the initiative to broaden our understanding. Get curious. Ask questions. Be respectful. Be enthusiastic to learn and grow.

How did your appearance on “CBS Mornings” come about?

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My friend, Derrica, that I met in the Baltimore ecosystem, introduced me to the coordinating producer at CBS. After a great conversation, she thought that I would be a good fit for the ‘Changing the Game’ segment. After a few weeks of planning and coordination, we were able to get me booked for the show.

Why did you choose to move to Baltimore?

I visited Baltimore before choosing to accept a job with UpSurge Baltimore through the Venture for America fellowship. Baltimore truly made me realize why she is called Charm City. After living in Louisiana my whole life and spending the previous five years in New Orleans, I was fearful of being homesick, but I quickly realized that Baltimore was an extension of New Orleans. Baltimore is a beautiful city full of history, community, and a freedom to exist as myself that I have never experienced. I chose to move to Baltimore and stay because the city has given me the space to be the most authentic version of myself.

During her first few months in Baltimore, Naomi Winston created four more coloring books for her line and is expected to release one each month with a different theme in 2023.
Last month, Naomi Winston and her work was featured on “CBS Mornings” where she was interviewed by Gayle King for the “Changing the Game” segment. (Courtesy: Naomi Winston)

What does this city need to do to be more culturally competent?

Ethnically, Baltimore is one of the most diverse places that I have ever lived [in]. I have learned so much from being curious, asking questions, and surrounding myself with people that don’t share any of my same perspectives. To be more culturally competent means to be more inquisitive and receptive to learning about experiences you may never understand.

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What does this country need to do to be more culturally competent?

I think I will mirror what I said before, which is surrounding yourself with people who are beyond your current understanding and perspective. This can look like intentionally studying the history of marginalized groups or getting involved in community action organizations that are working to combat, reverse and address systemic injustices against skin color, identity and social-economic status. Be a part of the change through educating yourself and your communities, and by taking direct action to create more space for justice.

What does your role with UpSurge entail? And how does that fit in with your mission of increasing cultural awareness?

I currently serve as UpSurge’s program and event analyst, curating our community events and collaborations to support founders and the creation of an equitable tech ecosystem in Baltimore. Although I have resigned from my position with the organization, I am an incredibly avid supporter of their mission of turning Baltimore into the world’s Equitech City. When it comes to creating significant systemic change in the world, it takes teachers, founders, investors, writers, coloring book authors and ecosystem builders; it takes everyone. As I transition out of my role with UpSurge I am enthusiastic to continue supporting their work as we all do our part to create a more equitable, just and represented society.

Why was attending a Historically Black College or University (HBCU) important for your success? And why are HBCUs necessary?

Attending Xavier University of Louisiana was a significant launching pad not only for my success as an entrepreneur but for my growth as an individual. Every single department, professor, staff member and fellow Xavierite have made me feel like I was someone. I always say that I am the cumulation of everyone in my life who thought I was capable of accomplishing something great, and Xavier University was a substantial piece of that. HBCUs are so necessary, not only for your academic success, but they are truly the spaces where, particularly as a Black person, you have the safety to grow, change, and explore.

What is next for you?

The real question is, “What isn’t next?” Coming into 2024, I have solidified the foundation to become a full-time founder and dedicate myself entirely to TCRE and the communities that we serve. We have a couple of significant partnerships that are coming into fruition for TCRE and pathways that I am engaging in to continuously support the BIPOC founder community in Baltimore and beyond.

John-John Williams IV is a diversity, equity and inclusion reporter at The Baltimore Banner. A native of Syracuse, N.Y. and a graduate of Howard University, he has lived in Baltimore for the past 17 years.

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