Melissa Harris-Perry: I'll write a list of all the books that I want to read. Did you read it?
Speaker: I did.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Did you read?
Speaker: Of course, I did.
Speaker: Looks like we got ourselves a reader.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I'm Melissa Harris-Perry and we're back with The Takeaway for we're continuing our week-long series of conversations about the office of books we're loving this summer.
Khristi Lauren Adams: My name is Khristi Lauren Adams, and I'm the author of Unbossed: How Black Girls Are Leading the Way.
[Run the World (Girls) by Beyonce playing]
Melissa Harris-Perry: After reading Unbossed, I immediately added the book, the curriculum of a summer camp for young girls I'm helping to lead this month. Unbossed is organized around the stories of eight Black girls who are leaders in their communities and their stories have been a valuable way to talk with the young girls in our camp and to help them think about their own capacity for change-making. Here's what nine-year-old Jordan and five-year-old Josephine told me about being a good leader.
Jordan: People, better leaders, and who has like a group. Let's just say someone wanted a business like of drawing. Then one of the people will be a leader to tell what should we draw?
Josephine: A good idea means you have to listen and you don't listen to me you be Delille will be where we stand and that be a lead on the model, you give just give up.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I asked Khristi Adams, why this book now?
Khristi Lauren Adams: When I wrote the book, it was around the time of the start of the pandemic and we got to see Gen Z on display. It was around the time where people were wondering how they were doing, because of the pandemic because they were wearing masks because they were not in school. Then in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, we also got to see their leadership on display.
That was when we really saw Gen Z really take center stage, because the conversation for the past few years have been about millennials, for the most part. I've always had a heart for Black girls, particularly. To see their leadership on social media, whether it was TikTok, or Instagram, or on television, we got to see virtual graduations with their leadership. It really emerged during that time. I said you know what? It's about time that we got to really see them.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Khristi, when you say this opportunity to really see them, you choose eight stories to tell. How did you make the choices of those eight young women?
Khristi Lauren Adams: For starters, I wanted the versatility of their leadership to be on display. I wanted to make sure that it wasn't just one particular area of leadership, I wanted to show that Black girls have a variety of different leadership styles, it's intergenerational.
Black women have been displaying their leadership for decades, for centuries almost. I was very specific about highlighting mental health advocacy, literacy, activism, racial justice activism, and it wasn't difficult because these young Black women they were in Vogue magazine. They were just regular social media you can see their organizations, their websites, etcetera, and just the work they've been doing. I was really particular about that because I wanted people to see that there wasn't just one type of Black girl because there's not just one type of leadership.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Let's talk about Ssanyu and Brown Girls Read.
Khristi Lauren Adams: I met Ssanyu when I wrote my first book, Parable of The Brown Girl, her leadership always stood out to me. I met her when we were partnering to do a program with Barnes and Noble et cetera. Ssanyu literacy leadership, particularly wanting to, focus on brown kids and them seeing representations of themselves in books, et cetera. That was something that was really important to her. She has a strategic leadership that I focused on, that's really significant.
Melissa Harris-Perry: When you talk about literary leadership, I find the ways that Ssanyu is up to this to be really compelling. Talk a little bit about how she thinks about and talk about what it means to be a literary leader? I'm not sure that I would have ever even thought of that area before encountering her work.
Khristi Lauren Adams: We've talked a lot, we've seen a lot, particularly on social media when it comes to this push for this need for diverse literature. I see that as a form of activism particularly now where books are being banned and, everyone's talking about critical race theory, et cetera. Ssanyu has been doing this work for years, and really just trying to push for there to be much more representation.
Not just representation in bookstores, but for young brown kids to see themselves represented in books. For her, for me, it's not even just the content of the books for her is really the aesthetic as well. She wants brown kids to be excited about seeing themselves, just the way that she was excited about seeing representations of herself when she started reading when she was at such a young age.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Talk to me about some of the young women you highlight here, whose work has really been about leading after these moments of violence, maybe, Tyah-Amoy Roberts?
Khristi Lauren Adams: Tyah-Amoy actually, her leadership began in the wake of the Parkland shooting, because she was a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School at the time. I remember seeing her leadership on display before I even thought about writing the book. I remember seeing her and a bunch of other young Black kids that were students at the school, basically saying, look, they, they did a press conference on television, and they said, "Look, there are other Black kids at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School." Because the faces that were being highlighted, particularly for March For Our Lives, were white faces, with the exception of Emma Gonzalez.
They wanted them to know that Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is diverse. That there are Black and brown kids at the school that were just as affected, just as angry, just as passionate about gun violence. She also wanted to highlight not just gun violence that was taking place in white neighborhoods, but gun violence that continue to take place in Black neighborhoods in Black and brown neighborhoods.
That was something that was really important to her and from there, she actually was asked to be a part of March For Our Lives and she joined the board, and she joined the speaker circuit. They went on in the summers, and they toured around, and they did voter registration, et cetera. The wonderful thing about Tyah-Amoy is that she used her voice. That was when she began to emerge as a leader, and I call her a transformational leader, which I think is something that's really important to highlight because for me when we think of transformational leadership, we think of Martin Luther King, we think of Malcolm X.
We very seldom think of Fannie Lou Townsend Hamer we very seldom think of Black women in those roles but I wanted people to know when to read that. This is a young transformational leader, not just in the making, it's literally innate within her.
Melissa Harris-Perry: We're going to pause and take a quick break, and come back with more of my conversation with Khristi Lauren Adams, author of Unbossed.
Back with The Takeaway, I'm Melissa Harris-Perry. We've been talking with Khristi Lauren Adams, the author of Unbossed: How Black Girls Are Leading the Way. Take a listen to a couple of leaders of the future.
Anna: A good leader as someone who takes care of their friends and doesn't force, and lets them take breaks, somehow freedom.
Lizzie: Whenever I was doing sports, we did a tug of war challenge, and then she said I could be the leader first because I was in the front. It was fun.
Melissa Harris-Perry: That was my eight-year-old daughter Anna, and her friend, 10-year-old Lizzie. Now I asked Khristi Lauren Adams to tell me about another one of the phenomenal young women in her book, Grace Callwood.
Khristi Lauren Adams: Grace Callwood was diagnosed with stage four non-Hodgkins lymphoma when she was eight years old. Leading up to that she had been experiencing some pain. She had some bumps, I believe in the back of her head, some lumps that her mother and her grandmother noticed. Her mother TJ, who heard I got close during this process, she took her to the doctor and the doctor basically asked if she was braiding Grace's hair too tightly, because, usually that she says happens when Black women are braiding Black girl's hair and the lumps take place.
She said I know my daughter, that's a different type of lump and she also had to think herself oh, I couldn't be braiding her hair too tightly. It was almost like for her she began to question even herself in that moment. She had to take Grace to more than one doctor. Her grandmother actually went back to TJ and said, "Listen, maybe you need a second opinion." When she went and got that second opinion, the doctor was like, "We need to do surgery on her right away."
Within the day, they did a surgery the following day. They knew that it was something that was more, but what's interesting is that when I was interviewing TJ and Grace for this book, TJ said I think now is the time in reflecting and having this conversation with me. She said and I didn't realize that I was basically gaslighted that this is a problem when it comes to believing Black women and believing Black girls. This is what we're saying is happening with our bodies but immediately she was dismissed.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Tell me about Hannah Lucas and the notion of visionary leadership?
Khristi Lauren Adams: Hannah Lucas had an unfortunate moment. She was a young woman that grew up in the south so she currently lives in Georgia I believe and was experiencing some bullying in school. She was experiencing some illnesses and that was also another issue very similar to Graces'. She's another one that went to doctors to say, "Hey, look I've been passing out. I've been having issues with headaches, and dizziness," and was dismissed for the most part.
She wasn't even diagnosed until much much later, but because of her illness and how it was not diagnosed because of the bullying. Because students were bullying her not just for her race and her hair but also because she was passing out in school and they didn't really understand that, she started experiencing some suicidal ideation. There was one moment where she tried to take some pills and her mother came in at the moment that she began to take those pills, took them out of her hand.
She said in that moment she was crying. It was very dramatic but she saw herself pushing a button, and she didn't know what that button was until a few days later she thought about it a bit more. She said I saw myself pushing something with my thumb. I thought it would be really great if people particularly young people we're in a moment of distress the same way that I was, we're always holding our phones.
If we were able to push something some app, some button that let people know that we're not okay. She started something called the NotOK App. Her and her brother got together and created this NotOK App. It is an app that basically does just that. It allows people that are in a moment of distress where they can press the button and the button actually on the app sends a notification to five of their closest trusted contacts and lets them know that they're not okay.
Then also lets the ones that they informed where they are like their GPS signal so that they can come to them or call them in their moment of distress. I call Hannah a visionary leader because she saw something and then she took the steps in order to make sure that came to fruition. In a spiritual world, I call that a spiritual prophetic leader prophetic visionary leadership very similar to that of Harriet Tubman, Hannah saw something and she went for it.
The wonderful thing that I love about Hannah is that she didn't just focus on creating the app. She also focused on her own mental health. She made sure to get counseling. She made sure to tend to her own emotions, while her brother worked on the technical part.
Melissa Harris-Perry: In each case for each of these young women you give us a way of categorizing not in an exclusive way, but understanding how these young women and the work that they're doing fit into conceptions of leadership. Including mobilizing leadership, ethical leadership, pace-setting leadership, and standing with the people. What is important about understanding these individual girls within a broader context of a form and kind of leadership?
Khristi Lauren Adams: I a long time ago started an organizational leadership PhD program that I did not finish. [laughs] I remember when we were reading texts about and these were academic texts about different styles of leadership. These were books that were written by mainly white men and white women. These were also books that were using examples of leadership that were mainly adult male-dominated leadership examples.
What I really wanted was for people to take these girls seriously. I'm not just writing about oh Hannah she does a really good job with NotOK app. It was really important for me to assign them something that was literally innate within them, and to assign them styles of leadership that people have been studying and researching literally for the past decade. Transformational leadership, or adaptive leadership, or ethical leadership. These are forms of leadership that are within these young girls that we can study for ourselves. It's not just for Black girls even though I want Black girls to read and be inspired.
To be able to assign not just one of these forms of leadership but to discover their own leadership journeys. Aside from that, I want for the older white man who is a researcher not just to turn to the books that I read in my courses but to turn to a book like this and say okay adaptive leadership [unintelligible 00:15:11], she is an adaptive leader and she's not just an adaptive leader in theory, she literally has the qualities and the characteristics of what we know adaptive leadership to be. I also find it interesting last week I was at a seminar at a womanist Institute at Princeton and one of the speakers got up and she was giving a lecture on adaptive leadership.
I just remember thinking wow [unintelligible 00:15:36] literally could be in here because this is who she is. This is the work that she's doing now. I know people don't automatically default to thinking of young girls when they think of these leadership styles and presenting on them. I want for people to get to that point to start to look to young girls' leadership.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Khristi Lauren Adams, author of Unbossed: How Black Girls Are Leading the Way. I'm so jealous I wasn't at that conference with you.
Thank you so much for joining us.
Khristi Lauren Adams: Thank you.
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