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These Black Authors From Kansas City Hope To Inspire Tomorrow's Writers Of Color

Andrea Tudhope
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City author Wes Parham stands with his daughters at their booth at Saturday's book fair at the W.E.B. DuBois Learning Center.

Wes Parham never imagined he could be an author.

“The idea that I would write a book is not something I ever thought as a kid or a teenager, because I wasn’t exposed to authors,” says Parham, who grew up around 76th and Troost in Kansas City, Missouri, and went to Lincoln Preparatory Academy.

Last year, Parham published his first book. And last weekend, at the Black Authors Network Book Fair & Art Show at the W.E.B. DuBois Learning Center, he shared it with the community.

“This is the community that raised me and made me who I am,” he says. “For me to serve as an example is exciting. It provides a level of exposure about opportunities that are available that oftentimes people from similar backgrounds like mine don’t get to see.”

This year's event was the second black authors' book fair, and organizers said it drew a bigger crowd than last year's. With a third fair now planned for next year, a growing community of authors in Kansas City appears eager to spread their inspiring messages.

Here are some of them:

Credit Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City author and entrepreneur Tyia Lashe.

Tyia Lashe

Lashe grew up in Kansas City and went to Lincoln Preparatory Academy, then studied language pathology at the University of Central Missouri. She then worked as a speech therapist for the Raytown School District before leaving to pursue a full-time career as an entrepreneur. At 26, she has self-published seven books. 

The first one, "A Beautiful, Wonderful Me," was inspired by a poem she wrote in sixth grade. Lasche says she struggled with her self-image and turned to poetry to find affirmation.  

"I recognized the power of my words," she says. 

Now she writes to inspire young girls, especially young brown girls. Her latest book, "Melanin Beauty," aims to remind young children of color that their "kinks and curls and natural hair" are beautiful.

"It's so important that we love who we are and what we have," Lashe says. "If little girls start at an early age loving themselves, I feel like it will help their future be even brighter."

Credit Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3
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Kansas City author Wes Parham.

Wes Parham

After finishing high school at Lincoln Preparatory Academy, Parham went on to become a first-generation college graduate at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where he earned a bachelor's and a master's degree. It was there he came up with the idea for "Be A Hater: A Polemic On The Hater Mindset."

"It's a book that looks at this idea that we call anyone who dissents or disagrees with us a hater," Parham says. "I argue that impacts our ethics, our relationships and our critical thinking, and I try to do it in a fun way."

He gave its chapters titles such as "Taylor Swift: The Most Dangerous Person Alive" and "Cognitive Psychology with Gucci Mane." 

"I want to be able to take these ideas and challenge you all to think differently and more deeply about some of the things going on in our culture," Parham says. "That's what I live for."

He says he's less of an author than he is a public speaker who wrote a book. In fact, he never imagined he'd write a book. He credits mentors who pushed him toward earning a PhD.

"That was what led me to be able to write a book and be at this point. I want to do that for other people, to say, 'Hey, this is something available to you and something you can do.' That's how I got here."

Credit Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Lee's Summit author Gwendolyn Squires.

Gwendolyn Squires

Squires is originally from Cape Girardeau, but worked in the Kansas City Public School district for 28 years. It was in retirement that her career as an author really began. She now also owns her own publishing company — four other authors at Saturday's book fair have published through Squires, all of whom are also retired principals.

Her "School Day Series" is largely inspired by the 19 years she spent as a principal at Garfield Elementary in Pendleton Heights. When she saw on the news that Katie Couric had written a children's book, Squires says, she dug out all the journals she kept during those years. 

Now, she says, she's thrilled to bring her work to the kids that inspired her through events like the book fair.

"To be able to interact with other publishers so that we can all bring that back and read to inner city children, and hopefully inspire them to write a book," Squires says.

Credit Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City author Grace LaJoy Henderson has written 30 books.

Grace LaJoy Henderson

Growing up in Kansas City's Squier Park neighborhood, Henderson had early aspirations to be an author some day. She wrote her first poem at age 12, about a boy she had a crush on. After that, she started collecting all of her poems, which eventually made it into "Love, Life and Relationships: Poems from a Young Girl's Heart."

Now Henderson has written 30 books. Her latest work is a series of children's books called "The Gracie Series." Each book ends with discussion questions, which she says center around resilience, determination, acceptance and problem-solving.

Much of her writing was inspired by her childhood, Henderson says. Her mother left the family when Henderson was 2, leaving her father with Henderson and her five siblings. 

"The way I dealt with that was through writing — when I thought about how sad it was, or if I felt rejection, or insecurity about not having a mother," she says.

She and her siblings spent some time in foster care.  

"Most of us ended up being determined not to live the way we lived when we were little. We were poor," she says. "I've never lived the way we did around the time my mother left. I had to be very strong. I raised two children as a single mom. I went back to college as a single mom. I never looked back."

Henderson has a bachelor's in social psychology, two master's degrees in education and curriculum and a PhD in Christian counseling. Now she teaches psychology at Metropolitan Community College, and hosts workshops to teach aspiring authors how to publish their own books.

Last year, after 50 years, she found her mother. She says she hopes to write about their experience reuniting in a sequel to the first book about her mother leaving.

Andrea Tudhope is a reporter for KCUR 89.3. Email her at andreat@kcur.org, and follow her on Twitter @andreatudhope.

Andrea Tudhope is an award-winning multimedia journalist based in Kansas City, Missouri. She is currently coordinating producer for America Amplified, a national public media community engagement initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. 
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