Friday, July 17, 2020

Equity & Inclusion Corner: Arcs of Justice by Jack Cheng

The Equity & Inclusion Corner welcomes author, Jack Cheng, for the third of our 2020 quarterly posts. In his call to action for substantive and meaningful change in our communities and society, Jack exhorts us to be agents of change at a deeper level.  

Stay tuned for our final 2020 blog post in October. Equity & Inclusion Team member, Debbie Taylor, shares the highlights of her conversation with Dr. Ashlelin Currie, Co-Chair of the Literacy Committee for the Books for Barbers organization. Dr. Currie serves as Early Literacy Consultant for Oakland Schools and was former president of BCDI-Detroit. Look for upcoming announcements on our Books for Barbers book drive to promote our collaborative efforts that will foster stronger community connections.
Be well and take care,
Isabel Estrada O’Hagin

Arcs of Justice

By Jack Cheng

I can’t wait for everything to go back to normal. This is a sentiment I’ve felt and expressed a number of times over the past months. I imagine that you’ve felt it too. To say that 2020 has been an unusual year so far would be a gross understatement.

But I want to challenge you—and myself—to resist the urge for normalcy. I want to challenge us to recognize that normal is the racist systems and policies that killed George Floyd in Minnesota and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky. That killed Malice Green and Aiyana Stanley-Jones in Detroit, Theo Gray in St. Clair Shores, and Cornelius Fredericks in Kalamazoo. Normal is racism that blames Asians for the pandemic and causes it to disproportionally kill Black and Brown bodies. Normal is, in other words, what got us here.

The purpose of daily marches and demonstrations in cities across the world isn’t only to highlight these injustices, but to interrupt the very sense of normalcy—as a means of effecting change. We, as storytellers, know that this interruption is an essential part of almost every story, almost every major character arc. Change doesn’t happen out of comfort; change must be incited. When our characters are shaken out of their “life as usual”—that’s when the story starts.

We know, too, that real change can’t be superficial. In the middles of our stories, our characters might attempt to soothe their surface problems and go back to the way things were, only to discover that these fixes are no substitute for the deeper inner transformation they must, through toil, trial, and error, discover. Likewise, our own transformations must involve more than just retweets and bail fund donations. They must involve more than just supporting authors and illustrators of color, and LGBTQIA+ creators, more than frequenting Black-owned bookstores. Those are all important, yes—but we must also do the far more difficult and uncomfortable work of reckoning with ways we personally, as a community, and as a society, have perpetuated racist ideas and policies, often without realizing it.

I believe that on every level, we can all—myself included—do better.

On a personal level, we can educate ourselves, and work to uncover our own biases. There are countless anti-racism reading lists available right now; we need only look at the bestseller lists or do a simple search to find them. The Brown Bookshelf, for one, has put together a collection of anti-racist resources off the heels of their KidLit Rally for Black Lives. Classes from Writing the Other are also an applied way to engage in that same education—through learning how to more sensitively write characters who are different than ourselves.

From within our communities, we can speak up when we see our friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues perpetuating racist ideas. But we must also work to identify and replace the racist policies in these same communities. The conclusion from surveys like Lee and Low’s 2019 Diversity Baseline Survey shouldn’t only be that we need individually to be more sensitive and inclusive, but that we also need to rethink the systems of publishing, agenting, and hiring that place disproportionately fewer people of color in industry roles, that offer smaller advances to Black authors over white authors, and that put disproportionately fewer books by marginalized authors into readers’ hands.

And here’s where our reality diverges from a simple three-act structure: We might have our moments of personal epiphany; we might have breakthroughs with our loved ones; we might effect policy changes in our industry; but unlike the stories in our books, the story of racial justice in this country is not going to be wrapped up with a neat denouement. The deeper we reach within ourselves and communities, and the farther we follow the symptoms to their root causes, the more we also start to see that we can’t achieve equity and justice in our local and professional communities without also addressing broader societal issues relating to housing, policing, healthcare, clean water, immigration, and education. The deeper we reach, the more we’ll see that this is not a single story but a multitude—an ongoing saga, already four hundred years old.

It’s a tall order, at times overwhelming to even grasp—how much work we still have to do. But we can always start with that desire for normalcy. We can learn to recognize it now, and whenever it appears in the future, for what it is: a call for action. A call for deep, meaningful change.

Jack Cheng is a Shanghai-born, Detroit-based author of critically acclaimed fiction for young readers. His debut children’s novel, See You in the Cosmos, is winner of the 2017 Golden Kite and Great Lakes, Great Reads awards for Best Middle Grade Fiction. Jack has visited schools around the world speaking with students about finding their paths as writers and artists, and he volunteers with 826michigan on in-class writing projects in Detroit public schools. He is a 2019 Kresge Artist Fellow.

Learn more at

Your voice matters. We invite you to comment on Jack’s post to keep the dialogue going.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020


We recently shared our members good news in our quarterly Hugs and Hurrahs, but there's more! SCBWI offers a variety of programs to support our members, including mentorships and scholarships, and we have some new winners to celebrate. 

Congrats to the winners of the 2020 Nonfiction Mentorships!

The winner of the nonfiction middle-grade/young-adult mentorship
with Stephanie Bearce is Sarah Lynne John with her proposal for Becoming an Inventor: Train Your Brain to Invent & Explore Your Creativity

Runners-up are Susan Santone with her proposal for A Taste for Change and Tammy Layman with her proposal for Pantry Raid.

The winner of the nonfiction picture book mentorship with Patricia Newman is Suzanne Jacobs Lipshaw with her manuscript The Expedition of CubeSat RAX

Runners-up are Carol Doeringer who wrote The Living Tree House and Melissa Bailey who wrote A Bright Thread: the Story of Marguerite Angeli.

Many thanks to the judges and mentors for all of their time and care in reading and making the tough decisions. Big thanks to Ann Finkelstein for coordinating this entire process from start to finish over many months. We appreciate you!

And there's more...

Congrats to the winners of the 2020 Members for Members Scholarship Fund! 

These winners are members or soon-to-be members of SCBWI who are interested in and working towards creating children’s books that resonate with diverse readers. Stay tuned to learn more - we'll check in with the recipients down the road to learn more about their work and how their projects are progressing.

Many thanks to the generous members who donated funds and to Isabel O'Hagin and the DEI committee for working to establish this scholarship fund.

Cheers to all of our hard-working SCBWI-MI writers and illustrators! Here's to taking risks and leaps to improve your work. We're so proud of you!