Saluting our Sisters is the theme of Black History Month 2023. During the month, we are highlighting 5 local black women finding out more about them and their achievements, and what Black History Month means to them.
Joy James is a local author who has written books for young people which highlight black inventors and the inventions they developed.
“I was born in South East Asia and moved here as a teenager, this has been home for many decades”, said Joy. “It was through my children that I became more involved in Black History Month. My husband’s family is from the Caribbean and when we had children, I wanted to find role models who represented them but couldn’t find anything, which was very frustrating. I do feel it’s tougher for black children and it’s one of the reasons that I write about successful black people, giving those positive role models to help encourage and inspire youngsters.
“The idea of black inventors really intrigued me – so I started to research and put together mini biographies and little stories about them. As my children grew older, I found the time to put these into a book which had a lot of interest from publishers, and it went from there.
“What was originally going to be 1 book has ended up being a series of 6 split into 2 age groups – the ‘101 Inventors’ books for 9–12-year-olds, and then more picture-led books for younger readers. Originally the books were more historical, but they now include more contemporary inventors.
“I have other ideas for books that move away from inventors and I also write a bit of poetry and short stories. My writing is a passion, it’s really important to me and I look forward to being able to do it full-time.”
Black History Month
“For the past 2 years I’ve done storytime sessions at local libraries during Black History Month, which has been really rewarding.
“Children can be robust critics, but I get a lot of positive reactions from them, and they seem to enjoy the books and finding out about the people in them.
“Black History Month is about education, understanding and awareness. It’s relevant all year round of course but if it helps to highlight the impact black people have had then that’s a positive thing.
“It’s a good theme this year, women are marginalised and can have their voices hidden – I hope it allows for those voices to be heard.”
Who inspires you?
“I would have to go with the inventors in my books. Recently I’ve been fascinated by Gladys West, now in her 90s, who contributed to the work that developed the GPS navigation system. Her work only recently came to light, and she received an award from the UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering which recognised her influence. She worked for NASA in the 1960s as one of many ‘human computers’ as they were known. These were often black women who were found to be excellent mathematicians in the days before computers and who played key roles in the space race.
“I would also have to say Rosetta Tharpe who is known as the ‘godmother of rock and roll’. It is only now being realised that the music she played inspired people like Elvis Presley. She started with gospel music but played an electric guitar and covered soul, jazz, rhythm and blues and developed a style of music that was all her own. She also played her music in Europe where she became very popular.
“Annie Malone was a pioneer in hair care. She inspired others who are more well-known in the black hair care industry, including Madam C J Walker who had a film made about her life story. Both became millionaires as result of their work and inventions. Annie arranged coal drops for neighbourhoods that couldn’t afford coal during cold winters and built a golf course that black people could use as they were not allowed to play on other courses, and she did a lot of other philanthropic work.
“These women went unsung at the time but are now being recognised and that’s great.”
“I would love to invite the ladies mentioned above – Gladys and Rosetta who played key roles in areas of our lives that have gone unrecognised until recently and Annie and Madam C J Walker who were both pioneers and extremely successful women in their time.
“They have all led such interesting lives and think they would be a fascinating mix to spend an evening with.”
Win a signed copy of Joy’s latest book, Marvellous Black Inventors, which introduces young children to 16 amazing individuals, including Gladys West and Rosetta Tharpe.
Just answer this question: Who is the ‘godmother of rock and roll’?
Email your entry to firstname.lastname@example.org by 11.59pm on Wednesday 22 November Please add ‘JOY WIN’ in the subject line of your entry email to make sure your entry is in with a chance.
After the deadline, the winner will be drawn out at random.
Only winners will be contacted, and will be notified by Monday 27 November (UK postage only).