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Friday April 23rd

UNC alumna Sakari Milan explores untold Black history through children’s books

Sakari Milan, UNC alumna and author, with her book The Tales of Camelia B.: The Sea Surfers. Photo courtesy of Milan.
Buy Photos Sakari Milan, UNC alumna and author, with her book The Tales of Camelia B.: The Sea Surfers. Photo courtesy of Milan.

It was in the stillness of the early stages of COVID-19 isolation that UNC alumna Sakari Milan began sharing unknown Black history through the eyes of a 10-year-old African American time traveler named Camelia B. 

In Milan’s children’s book series, "The Tales of Camelia B.," readers learn about Black historical figures that have been hidden, altered or otherwise erased from history books.

“It is a guided journey that aims to inspire and empower children of all backgrounds focusing on K-5,” Milan said. “The series aims to correct the misrepresentations and hidden facts in history by celebrating the extraordinary contributions and achievements of Black heroes around the world.”

Her inspiration to launch the series came from a reflection of her frustrations with the narrow and altered teachings of Black history. 

“I have always felt a growing need to learn more about my heritage and history due to the inadequate and inaccurate representation of Black history throughout my education,” Milan said. “Beginning in elementary school, I wanted to know more about my ancestors – the lack of information in the education curriculum saddened me and left me feeling void.”

Milan decided to retell this erased history of Black legends and heroes to impressionable children who are in the early stages of forming their identity and awareness of the world around them. 

“I choose to put an end to the cycle through children’s eyes because that’s where we begin, by enlightening and awakening the children, Milan said. “I was very intentional about choosing the K-5 age group because my mission is to reach kids during their crucial developmental ages.”

Jamirious Mooney, a junior studying human development and family studies, and education, said from a childhood development perspective, this decision to start with children is imperative to their identity development.

“It allows Black children to start to imagine, it allows Black children to start to dream, especially at that young age, where imagination is a huge part of identity development,” Mooney said.

Besides sharing this newly excavated history through her books, Milan hopes to change the negative narrative of what defines Blackness in history books.

“When you tell a Black child that all their history encompasses is chains, bondage and violence and every leader acknowledged are those who fought for freedom, this impacts the child’s development and understanding of where they come from,” she said.

Milan said sharing positive affirmations about who they are will allow them to have a sense of determination and invincibility.

“When you teach that same Black child that their ancestors were explorers, inventors and leaders around the world, that child grows up understanding themselves and their identity in an entirely different light,” she said. “They now understand they could conquer the world if they wanted to, just like their white counterparts have the privilege of understanding.”

Afton Scott, a senior studying exercise and sports science, said she initially bought the book for her younger cousin because she believes positive Black representation to be so important.

“Every day, little Black children are going to be told that they're not this, they're not that, they can't be this or that," Scott said. "But with stories like these it's like, ‘Wow we did this, and we're the backbone of everything, so we can go for anything in life and be successful despite any setbacks that come our way.'"

Milan believes that starting the process of correcting how Black history is told to children will be vital in breaking down the false interpretations.

“I chose children’s books because children are the future, and we have to reach and instill these concepts, values and truths in them while they’re young,” Milan said. “There is no better time than now to change the false narrative that has existed for far too long.”

The first book of "The Tales of Camelia B." series, "The Sea Surfers," is available for purchase on her website. Milan's other books in the series, "The Afro-Samurai" and "Golden Locks," are coming soon.

@charity_cohen

arts@dailytarheel.com

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