Middletown-based duo Atiya Chase and Daneya Jacobs share backgrounds in advocating for girls—New York transplant Jacobs founded Just BE Media, a program that educates young women about harmful media messages; and Chase, a former school counselor, designed a forum called Girl, We Need to Talk, which gave at-risk kids the space to ask hard questions. But the most important common ground they share is raising little brown girls. The challenges, the joys and the heartbreak that come with the job inspired their children’s book, “I Love Your Brown” (Litfire Publishing).
AC: When my daughter, Bella, was 3, she put her little hand on mine and said, “I wanna be peach like you.” And it broke my heart. You want your kid to love the skin they’re in. And I said, “No, Bella, I love your brown.” The phrase stuck. After that exchange, I had to call Daneya because of the work she’s done with girls. There were other Bellas out there and we had to save the world, like, now.
DJ: I said, “Mmm hmm, girl. Go for it.” (Laughs.) A year later, I was watching my daughter, Jayda, place first in a gymnastics competition, and I was so moved. I woke up the next day with a poem in my head that was a love letter to brown girls and their journey. That was the rough draft we both turned into “I Love Your Brown.”
AC: We used the word “brown” because Bella was 3 when we had the conversation about skin color. Kids understand colors like crayons, and could relate to variant shades of brown.
AC: Not in the organized way of the social movement now. I don’t think #blackgirlmagic could have existed when I was growing up. I don’t think this book could have, either. I think of Dominique Dawes, Flo Jo, Whitney, Lauryn Hill … that was the representation I saw as a girl. But not “average” girls.
DJ: I had a different experience in New York. Everyone I knew was black. I was surrounded by strong black women. They had nice houses, they drove nice cars. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I realized the bubble my mother kept me in. Being a brown mother, having brown children … it’s not as safe as I thought.
AC: Years ago, we could go, “Oh, these racist issues? They don’t exist.” But the political, social and media climate now has opened the door for this book to be relevant. We’ve known that these issues have existed, but we’ve never been able to talk about it on this kind of platform with people willing to listen. The white-washing of the world is kind of being dismantled. In “Game of Thrones,” everyone is marching toward this wall, intent on breaking it down. It feels like that. Winter is coming! In a good way.
DJ: My perspective as someone not from here is always different, but I will say that every career opportunity that has come my way [in Delaware], all the way through to starting my candy store in Middletown, has been led by other women. I can’t think of a single job I’ve had since coming here that wasn’t because another women—white, black—has reached back to pull me forward. In New York, I felt like I was traveling in circles. I couldn’t get my life together. I feel progression is easier here. But the unfortunate reality is I often wonder if the way that I look has made my experience different. If I were a darker-skinned woman with a different grade of hair, would it have been the same? I’ll never know.
AC: This book was written two-fold, borne out of two girls—Bella, insecure; and Jayda, grit. We hope it helps girls do away with their insecurity and embrace their grit. This is who you are. This is how we see you. And pass that along to someone else—be the light.
DJ: I read a rough draft to a family friend. Her daughter just started college. She read it and said, “My child needs to hear this right now.” It’s an endless journey to get to that place of confidence and empowerment.