There are some parenting questions that are universal. Is my preteen’s outfit appropriate? Am I being a helicopter parent or disciplining my kids appropriately? Is it OK for my 9-year-old to watch “America’s Next Top Model”? (Answers: Probably not. Yes and yes. Definitely yes.)
This is why this weekend’s visit by Atlanta author Denene Millner is not just an event for African-American parents, caregivers and children. Rather, it is a chance to hear about the joy and pain of parenting through the lens of an African-American mother.
Millner comes to Athens from 10–11 a.m. on Saturday, May 13 at the Five Points location of Avid Bookshop. She is the author of My Brown Baby, the parenting advice book based on the website of the same name. (It’s the outlet that first broke the news about Trayvon Martin’s death), and also recently published Early Sunday Morning, a sweet children’s book that recalls her true-life experience of singing a solo in front of her church family. The event will kick off with a reading of Early Sunday Morning for the kids, followed by a discussion and reading of My Brown Baby for the grown-ups in the room.
My Brown Baby was born of posts on Millner’s website, which has been around for nearly a decade. She started it because, she said, when her daughters were only babies, her only source for information that related to raising African-American children came from her friends. She wanted to create a space where women of color could find advice from someone who understands not only issues of discipline, generational parenting styles and how our bodies change, but also nuanced topics such as how school dress codes unfairly target African-American girls, the influence of pop culture and hair.
“What I’ve found over the years the website has been in existence is that it’s been focused on sowing the seeds of humanity of black mothers,” she said. “When people talk about black motherhood, or invite black mothers into the conversation of parenthood, it’s that we have to talk about this suffering. But not all of us are dealing with poverty or poor educational outcomes. That’s a part of our story but it’s not o,ur whole story.”
Instead, she said, her stories of parenthood aim to define the humanity of African-American parents. And as it happens, white kids and black kids have a lot in common anyway. So while your baby’s skin color might be different, many of the issues are the same.
“Our children get their teeth the same time as every other human. We all cry when we send our kids to kindergarten their first day. We all get worried about sending them to parties and the pressures of being a teenager,” she added. “All of these things are human conditions, and rarely ever are we asked to analyze our perspectives on those subjects,”
My Brown Baby doesn’t require the reader to have a specific skin color; rather, it offers a valued viewpoint that needs to be part of the larger parenting conversation. This is required reading for parents of all shades—and it will help them understand the perspectives of their fellow parents.
As a children’s story, Early Sunday Morning is hopeful and vibrant, telling the story of a girl’s nervous preparations as she gets ready for her solo in the church choir. It’s inspired by Millner’s own experience singing for her church.
“It was the most mortifying thing that ever happened to me, but also the best thing,” she said. “It was me in front of all these people and every was supporting and loving me, no matter if I couldn’t hit that note.”
Today, when she is standing in front of people, she goes back to that time and the lessons she learned. “I still get the jitters, but I learned early on how to get rid of them because of that experience.”
Early Sunday Morning helps fill a void for Millner, whose children are now 14 and 17, with a stepson now old enough to live on her own. She no longer blogs about breastfeeding on mybrownbaby.com, and instead has noticed her posts have a subtle activist undertone—largely due to the Black Lives Matter movement and police violence. Even so, she says, the website is unique in its content.
“It’s still a very unique perspective on the internet,” she said, recalling how the Trayvon Martin story unfolded after she stumbled upon a small Reuters story about two parents who were asking why their son’s killer was not arrested. The story she posted in reaction to it went viral, and the case became a national story. “Around 2014 I decided I was going to focus on joy—the joy of parenting and the joy of being this person who my daughters have raises. The whole thing is fascinating to explore.”