I truly do believe that when mothers come together, magic happens.
This was certainly the case for Tina Akuoko, Khumo Tapfumayeni, Mpho Maje, Precious Mdlalose and Kgala Nazo, who are mommy friends. These women engaged in a passionate conversation about the struggles of parenting in December 2016, which led to the birth of an online book store.
The conversation was about how difficult it is to find books their children could relate to. The stories they found were cute, but you can only read about a blue-eyed prince charming so many times. The Cinderellas and Snow Whites all had a common theme, and unfortunately black children cannot relate to the identity of those characters.
They went on a journey to discover children’s books written by local authors either in an official South African language or written about brown-skinned kids.
They came across a couple of local authors like Lebohang Masango, Refiloe Moahloli and Bandile Sikwane, but realised they were all publishing and selling their books independently.
That was the very moment they birthed their new baby – EthniKids, an online children’s book store that seeks to affirm the identity of black children and encourage black protagonists to learn more about black identity.
EthniKids is centred on two very important principles: representation and the growing need to increase literacy rates in SA.
Representation is a very important subject in modern-day South Africa and the world. Have you felt it yet? This wave of black consciousness and pride? I have. I continuously see women loving their natural hair and taking pride in being black.
The question is how to instill the same pride in our kids, over and above telling them on a daily basis that they are beautiful.
An experiment was conducted on a group of young kids involving colour and identity. Two dolls – a black doll and a white doll – were placed in front of them and they were asked a series of questions. They had to identify a beautiful doll versus an ugly one and which doll was good and which was bad.
Fifteen of the 21 kids identified the white doll as a beautiful and good doll. And when asked which doll looks more like them, they pointed at the black doll. This means our children think they are bad and ugly.
The truth is mainstream media has portrayed an unpleasant image of black people. The gangster, the pimp or the troublemaker is black. Blacks are hugely misrepresented, and their image is highly distorted.
This is why the film Black Panther was hugely successful. Black kids saw a black superhero speaking an African language (sort of). They could finally identify with a big Marvel production.
For this reason alone, books like I love Me by mommy and daughter duo Bianca and Khanya Masina is so important in our country. It’s based on self-affirmation that teaches black kids that their hair and dark skin is beautiful.
According to EthniKids: “I Love Me shows Khanya expressing what she loves about herself, exploring every part of her body that she appreciates and what it can do. This book teaches young girls self-love and is a first in the Khanya Africa Literacy series.”
The second principle that EthniKids is founded on is the need to increase the literacy rates in SA. Precious, one of the founders, dreams of a day when the culture of reading books for fun returns and reading is not just for school or study purposes.
“Gone are the days where reading was not just a scholarly requirement, but actually a fun activity to partake in.”
EthniKids, in collaboration with the department of arts and culture, has started book readings. The first reading was in Eldorado Park on January 19 and the next is in the Tembisa Library today, February 23, at 10am. Authors will read from their books and sign them.
This is a wonderful initiative to promote a culture of recreational reading in the black community.
They host their second Ethnikids Storytelling Festival on March 2 at the Nirox Sculpture Park from 10am. It will be a truly African storytelling event with drumming and a lot of laughs.
Please visit their website ethnikids.co.za for more information.