BBS Reads: Stephanie Fleary's Chocolatey Brown

by Keyaira Boone

Children Read Along

Second grade teacher Stephanie Fleary is combating colorism in our community with a strong serving of love and support. The Brooklyn native created a children’s book called Chocolatey Brown to instill confidence in her classroom’s children of all shades. And with the help of a teacher named Miss Honey the book’s heroine goes on a journey of self discovery that would make any BabyBrownSugar mom smile. We spoke with Stephanie to discuss the representation of women of in the media, inspiration, and the importance of self-esteem. Young black girls face a myriad of issues today why did you choose to focus on colorism? The topic actually has been an issue in the African-American community for a very long time but the reason I chose it for this book was the discussion actually came up in my classroom. I’m a second grade teacher and I was teaching a lesson on black history and one of the little girls she raised her hand and she said “Miss Fleary why is my mommy white and I’m black?". Her parents were of Haitian descent but because her mother had lighter skin she thought that her mother was white so I had to go into this whole discussion to explain to them that there are different shades of brown. And she expressed that she didn't like her darker skin tone so I said "I’m a darker skinned girl and I love my skin. I love your skin too, it’s beautiful!” So after that I started calling her Chocolatey Brown and she started to light up and gain confidence in herself. So that is where the inspiration from the book came from and why I thought it was important to address colorism among children. We talk about it for adults but nobody addresses it at the foundation. Young children are just developing themselves and figuring out who they are. I felt that it was important for us to teach them self belief and self acceptance as young as possible. How did the other children in the classroom respond? I’ve seen her demeanor change and her interaction with other children has changed dramatically. That’s been a big thing. She now believes in herself and she loves her skin tone. They’re even talking about their different hair textures and things like that. You know these issues that they’re going through they don't even realize what they are so Chocolatey Brown enlightens them a little bit about what it is that they're going through. How important was it for you that your vision was correctly portrayed in the books images? It was very important to me because I didn't only want to speak to darker skinned girls I wanted to speak to all brown girls. That's why I connected it to chocolate, because chocolate is so good and it comes in different shades and flavors. I wanted to make sure that it spoke to all brown girls teaching them that they’re beautiful but because I don't see any literature with darker skinned characters I wanted to make sure that I did that. The words of the book and the moral and the story behind it really teaches all women and girls of color that they’re beautiful if they believe it. It was important for me to get it just right. When I was working with the illustrator at first the tones and the shades weren’t popping. They looked a little washed out at first. We had to revamp it a couple times to get that rich honey brown color that she has now.

Chocolatey Brown

Learn more about Stephanie and find out how you can win a signed copy of Chocolatey Brown for your child below. How has the issue of colorism directly affected your life? Has anyone ever made you feel less beautiful because you were dark skinned? I’ve experienced colorism but because my family has always instilled self-belief in me it never affected me. I remember growing up in my early teens and you know being interested in boys and finding they would gravitate towards my lighter skinned friends. And i’m like "hello!" I like to play basketball, I like stuff boys are into, what about me? We could play and you know hang out but they would pick the lighter skinned girls to be with. So I did experience that but not to a point where it really hurt my confidence. My father actually was ridiculed and treated differently for his darker skin tone. Girls would tell him he had to find a lighter skinned woman to have children with so the kids wouldn’t come out as dark as he is. Growing up we would hear stories about those experiences. How do you address colorism in your home now that you’re a mother? I think having the book helps me address the issue with my son. He actually is lighter and he always says “I love my caramel skin” because his chocolate is caramel. Sometimes I’ll hear him say “I wanna be darker” and I have to tell him “No your skin tone is perfect because God created you and God doesn't make mistakes”. I tell him how important he is and to love himself. He has a lot of confidence and I think the book helped him realize not everybody believes in themselves the way he does and not everyone has parents to teach them values. So I’ll hear him sometimes-because he's actually in my class which is funny- but I’ll hear him encouraging the girls on how they look giving them compliments and things like that. AW! He’s a little ladies man I have to watch him. What do you think we need to do to affect change in the media so that darker skinned girls do feel more confident? I think that we need to be represented equally. The media needs to do a better job representing all shades of brown. Sometimes we play the fence and we don't show the darker skinned women with the more kinky hair and we need to represent that because we exist. There's different shades. I think the media needs to do a better job representing that in books, in magazines, and on television, because this is what our children are absorbing. If they are not represented they won't know who they are, they won't know their value and that needs to be instilled from birth. How do you propose we do that? If the parents don't know their value they won't be able to instill it into their children so I think programs need to be implemented. I’m a motivational speaker as well my company is Empowered Stilettos. I started to do empowerment workshops for women and children because I found that in the classroom during report card time I was doing more counseling to the mothers than I was teaching them about their children's academic progress. I was helping them get through domestic violence issues and their children’s daddies being incarcerated and just all their changes. I think it’s important having programs for children teaching them self-image, goal settings, mommy and me classes that don’t just teach exercise but values as well because a lot of them have been lost along the way. I think these offer different opportunities for African- Americans to get together, unify, and just learn and grow together. I think these opportunities will allow our children to see what we are capable of doing and then they’ll want to emulate that.

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Have you ever seen yourself adequately reflected in the media? Hmm adequately? Close but nope not exactly. There’s always a negative twist you know the drama and the negativity it feeds the audience so we’ll get the roles and we'll be featured on television but it’s always twisted. So I haven't quite seen it the way I wanted to. I see Oprah and Iyanla but not everyone is watching Oprah and Iyanla. It needs to be represented where the masses are watching. Successful black women should be portrayed in a light where we’re not being cheated on, where we’re not angry, and not caught up in some drama, fighting and arguing. Just a positive strong image? I can’t think of a show or a representation of that. Speaking of emulation who did you grow up being inspired by? Definitely the great Maya Angelou. She just represents the essence of a woman with her strength and her freedom. Her words have such power and they’re able to create such vivid images. And of course Oprah Winfrey. These household names have definitely shaped the woman that I am becoming along with my mom, my sisters, and any African-American woman that I see consistently growing and pushing and just living life to the fullest. What can we expect next from the Chocolatey Brown brand? I am working on the second book for boys teaching them that they are kings if they believe it. I’m not quite sure when that will be ready. I’m really trying to focus on Chocolatey Brown right now but a book for boys is in the works as well as my continued workshops and training for women and children that I do with Empowered Stilettos. I have a workshop coming up this August teaching children goal settings. We’ll be doing vision boards and some of the activities in the back of the book in a workshop setting. Watch Stephanie speak with News 12 about Chocolately Brown here. To learn more about Empowered Stilettos check out their website here. We want to share the message of empowerment and acceptance with your child? Enter the giveaway by leaving a comment below telling us why you think all brown girls are beautiful!

What do you think of Chocolatey Brown? Have you ever had to discuss colorism with your child? Keep the conversation going on social media using the hashtag #BBSMomsKnow !

-Keyaira N. Boone