Planting People Growing Justice Leadership Institute Talks About Their Writing Competition

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Planting People Growing Justice Leadership Institute Talks About Their Writing Competition

Phillis Wheatley Peters born 1753–1784 was the first African American woman to become an author. The poet was not only the first African American to publish a book, but the first to achieve an international reputation as a writer. So, it’s very strange that in the year 2024, only 5.93% of authors in the USA are Black or African American.

What is more worrying is 85 percent of Black students lack proficiency in reading skills and 84 percent of Black students lack proficiency in mathematics according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

These shocking figures which need to be changed could have something to do with why only 15 percent of Black students go to university while 40% of Black students graduate from four-year universities and colleges compared to 64% of white students.

Reading and writing are some of the most important tools a person can have, but with 1 in 4 children not being able to read, more needs to be done to give young Black adults a positive future.

One organization that is doing just that is Planting People Growing Justice Leadership Institute. They have become the champions of changing the world for the better, and now thanks to their latest campaign, we can see more Black authors on our bookshelves.

We decided to sit down with Planting People Growing Justice Leadership Institute to learn more about their important news and how they want to see important changes.

First of all please introduce yourself

I am the founder of the literacy nonprofit, Planting People Growing Justice Leadership Institute. I created this organization to address the United States’ reading crisis and eradicate the school-to-prison pipeline. This is personal and important to me because as a civil rights attorney, many of my clients learned how to read while in prison. This is unacceptable but somehow, we created a RULE OF 4:

1 in 4 American children cannot read

If you are not reading at grade level by 4th grade, you are 4 times more likely to drop out of school.

Here is the connection, you are also 3 and a half times more likely to be arrested during your lifetime.

This is UNACCEPTABLE. Yet, this is an opportunity for change where we can create new pipelines for the future and work to end mass incarceration.

I am committed to growing futures: one book at a time & one child at a time. As a social entrepreneur, I have developed the skills to take a multifaceted approach to promoting literacy and diversity in books. This has allowed me to tackle the reading crisis from various angles, including authorship, publishing, bookselling, and literacy advocacy.


You have just shared some exciting literary news, can you share that news?

I am excited to announce the release of Planting People Growing Justice’s first book in the new Difference Makers series. It is entitled: Carl Walker: The Sound of Justice. This book chronicles the life journey of Reverend Carl Walker. Walker is the co-founder of Walker West Music Academy and pastor emeritus of Morningstar Baptist Church.  

With over 70 years of dedication to preserving Black culture and history through arts and music, Reverend Walker embodies a lifelong commitment to his servant leadership mission. Inspired by his grandmother, who imparted invaluable lessons in combining faith, music, and storytelling, he began his journey at a young age, playing the piano with a makeshift cardboard box instrument when resources were scarce. This early determination and creativity set the foundation for his lifelong dedication to preserving cultural heritage through music.

Why have you decided to launch a leadership series for youth?

My goal is to inspire young people to lead within their sphere of influence. History has shown us that young people have always been at the forefront of social change movements, whether it be the Freedom Riders of the past or Dream Defenders of our present.

Through our Difference Makers series, we are reminding our youth that you are never too young to make a difference. Now is the time for our youth to pick up the mantle of leadership. They can challenge themselves and change the world.

So, you are inviting Black writers living in Minnesota to write a biography featuring pioneering Black leaders, why have you chosen that topic?

I seek to celebrate our local leaders who are planting seeds of social change. This will serve as a source of inspiration for the next generation of leaders. They will see a model of excellence in service and leadership. It will motivate them to discover the leader within and leverage their gifts and talents to uplift our community.

I am also working to establish our historically Black community, Rondo, as a cultural arts district. My goal is to leverage arts-based community development to revitalize our community. This is what I call our “Rondo Renaissance” where we combine arts and culture to restore our Black ecosystem. The books from Difference Makers are an integral part of my work. They will be featured in local libraries and incorporated into the school curriculum in order to connect our youth with our community’s history and equip them with the tools to build a brighter future.

According to a recent report, 50.45% of US authors are women and 49.55% of US authors are men. Black or African American authors currently stand at just 5.93%, does that shock you?

It serves as an invitation to revolutionize the publishing industry by creating access for Black authors to share their literary genius with the world. I believe in the community organizer’s motto: “Got voice, Got power.” Now is the time to lift our voices for justice by sharing our stories and creating change.

What do you feel can be done to increase the number of successful Black authors, and what obstacles do you believe Black Authors have in their way?

To increase the number of successful Black authors, we should extend an invitation to writers of all ages. We must encourage people of all ages to tap into the transformational power of writing.

Writing is joy. Writing is peace.  Most of all, writing is leading.

There are many obstacles like access to mentorship, professional training, and monetary resources. Despite these challenges, there are opportunities to learn and grow. I created writing circles and workshops where we share resources and knowledge. In addition, I created a free online platform filled with resources about writing, publishing, and marketing your book.

You can visit our YouTube channel to access these resources:

What do you believe can be done in schools to not only help young black scholars to become more interested in reading with the possibility of becoming a successful author, but to also increase literacy skills?

At Planting People Growing Justice, we are on a mission to help Black children joy in reading. We achieve this by increasing diverse representation in books. It is that simple notion that you cannot be what you cannot see. Imagine being inspired by the first Black female attorney who fought for equal access to legal education (Charlotte Ray) or a pioneering women’s basketball player who was officially drafted by an NBA team (Lusia Harris). Each of these courageous women is featured in our Difference Makers series. Young readers will be inspired by their stories to dream big.  

Through our efforts, we are creating both mirrors and windows for our youth as outlined by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop. For Black youth, we are creating mirrors where young people can see a positive representation of themselves on the pages of a book. We are also providing windows and sliding doors for all children: “Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of a larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books” Sims Bishop stated.

By encouraging Black children to write, we are honoring our cultural tradition of storytelling and cultural preservation. I am reminded of the words of Chinua Achebe: “Until the lion learns how to write, every story will glorify the hunter.” We are training the next generations of lions and lionesses to write for justice.

Unless you are a celebrity, or a well-known figure, it has become very hard to get a book published, what advice would you give to someone who is struggling to get a publisher to read their book?

I would encourage the author to understand their audience. With my first book (The Lawyer as Leader: How to Plant People and Grow Justice), I built a community of readers long before the book manuscript was ever submitted to my publisher. I created a discussion guide, met with lawyers, and hosted leadership training programs. I wanted my publisher to see that the book had value and relevance. It also helped me to establish my reading community before the book was released.

A lot of black authors are turning to self-publishing but there is a huge cost involved, would you like to see more grants made available?

I envision more grants and writing competitions becoming available. This will provide resources for authors to create and develop new books. We are hosting writing competitions to provide access to writing opportunities for new authors.

What would you say to a black author who is thinking about giving up on the idea of having their book published?

I would share the words of Toni Morrison: “If you find a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

Media Contact
Company Name: Planting People Growing Justice Institute
Contact Person: Jacklyn Milton, Administrative Director
Email: Send Email
Address:PO Box 131894
City: Saint Paul
State: Minnesota
Country: United States