Holding History – Ep.11

Being an Upstander – Ep.10
December 2, 2020
Modeling Diversity – Ep.12
December 16, 2020

Author of the children’s book series Just Imagine… What If There Were No Black People in the World, Tamara Shiloh talks about using storytelling to educate young people on Black history, how her works are designed to encourage and inspire Black children and owning a children’s bookstore that features culturally inclusive titles.

Melyssa Barrett:  Welcome to The Jali Podcast. I’m your host, Melyssa Barrett. This podcast is for those who are interested in the conversation around diversity, inclusion, and equity. Each week, I’ll be interviewing a guest who has something special to share, or is actively part of building solutions in this space. Let’s get started.

All right. So today we are joined by Tamara Shiloh and I am just really enjoying and excited to speak to her as an author, speaker, entrepreneur. And I am just so interested in your background and how you got to where you are today.

Tamara Shiloh:  Wow. Well, I’m going to give you the short version. I’ve been around a long time. Well, this particular journey started probably a little over 20 years ago, when I received an email and the email was, it had a list of all these black inventors and scientists and I had never seen these folks`~ before. And so the other thing is there was a little story with it, also and at that particularly time, I just started learning how to use Microsoft Publisher. So I was creating all these little pamphlets for brands and some of my friends who were entrepreneurs and I decided to do one for my grandson, but then I thought about these people I’m putting in here. I’m like, “What if this was a hoax or fake news or whatever.” So I went to the library and sure enough, there were a couple of books about black inventors and scientists. I’m like, “What the heck.” And then I got pissed, okay, because, why don’t I know any of these people? It was just ridiculous. Some of the things I saw that they had done, I’m like, “Really.”

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes.

Tamara Shiloh:  And so it was right then, I’m sorry. I thought I turned, it was right then that I decided to write a children’s book. And however, when I put all the information together, when I started working on it, it was apparent that this book was going to be six or seven inches thick because there was so much information. The kids might not want to read all of that. So I decided to break it up into a series. And so initially it was five books. And so I actually wrote them 20 years ago. And so fast-forwarding, okay. Two or three years ago. Well, I worked with those books until about… for about five years. I think it was because I went on tour with them in 2005. It was a little short tour because I didn’t know what I was doing. So let me tell you, I have learned so much more since then, first of all, I didn’t even try to shop the books because first of all, I didn’t know how, and now that I know what I know, there’s no way in heck that they would’ve taken those books right?

So I put them… I put the books down and a few years ago I retired. I was an HR manager with a civil engineering firm. And my daughter had been threatening to take the books and do stuff on her own, so I decided to rewrite them, make them more engaging. And so I did, and I’m not sure if it was around the same time I joined BEIPA, the group, the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association. But I will tell you that having joined that group, I could not believe what I didn’t know. Okay. It was so overwhelming. I didn’t miss a meeting for a year. I was just grasping all of the knowledge. It was incredible. They still are. This whole idea, yeah, I decided to rewrite them. So I got an editor, I got an illustrator. And now the books are very cool.

I mean, so I’m really happy about what’s happened. It’s taken me a while now to… The first two books are done and I’m working on book three. It’s slow [inaudible 00:04:35] I’m driving her crazy, but I’m just busy with all this other stuff that I’m doing. So the first two books, well, the name of the series is Just Imagine… What if There Were No Black People in the World? The first book in the series is Jaxon’s Magical Adventure with Black Inventors and Scientists, and then the second one is Jaxon and Kevin’s Black History Trip Downtown.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes.

Tamara Shiloh:  And the third one is going to be about women, black women inventors and scientists. Okay. And so the character will be Jaxon and his cousin talking about that. So I’m excited about doing it. It’s just, Oh my goodness. I have so much going on right now, which, on one hand is a really cool thing, but the other side of that is I’m not taking the time to sit down and write. It won’t take me long once I do it, but, finding the time…

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. Well, it’s so interesting to me though, because when… even in this last year with COVID and with all of the focus on social injustice, you realize that there’s so much history, so much rich, rich history that not only do, I’ll say our allies may not know, but in a lot of cases, we may not even know our own history for a variety of reasons.

Tamara Shiloh:  We don’t.

Melyssa Barrett:  So when you start talking about, What if There Were No Black People in the World?, I mean, you start going, well look at all the inventions that wouldn’t be here, or there’s just so many, I mean, I can’t even begin to think about all the impacts that blacks have had not only in the United States, but around the world. And so, you start thinking about, kind of STEM and, being able to connect with young people to help them understand how science, and technology, engineering, math, even the arts are just so necessary. So, I mean, is your audience typically… I’m sure you must speak both for younger audiences as well as older audiences, because there’s a lot of old folks that don’t know some of the history either.

Tamara Shiloh:  That’s very true. So in the last couple of years, I have a black history class that I do, it’s a afterschool and summer program that I do. Okay. So along with the book, I’ve created a coloring book, a journal and an activity book. And that was to, if there were any teachers out there who really were interested in including black history into their curriculum, I thought this might help them some. And so the books now, they’re designed to help kids with reading and to get them interested in STEM, hopefully, and to give them options for careers. It’s like most black children, never heard of a black microbiologist or an oceanographer or an inventor, so my goal is to let them see the black people who have been doing things forever. It didn’t start with Dr. Martin Luther King. You know what I’m saying?

It’s been, I mean, since we set foot on the soil, we’ve been doing wonderful things and they need to understand that, they too can do any of these things, but they need to know that, there are black people doing these things. I tell parents to watch your child, if they like playing in dirt. That might be the next famous, I don’t know, but take advantage of whatever their interests are because there’s a black person that’s done something in that field.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Tamara Shiloh:  So I use the books to encourage kids to read. So, that’s the other thing. I also facilitate a black history, professional development class for educators to show them how to easily incorporate black history into their curriculum, because my famous line is you can’t teach what you don’t know.

Melyssa Barrett:  Right.

Tamara Shiloh:  And it’s not difficult if you have the tools to work with. And you do find, there are a lot of black folks that do not know their history but we weren’t taught, especially in California, if you didn’t have a black teacher and you didn’t have one who knew their history, you weren’t going to really learn about it. And then there is a problem of learning about the same seven people every year for the past years. Right. So I have a thing about that.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Tamara Shiloh:  Yeah. So I just try to do my piece to try to help, children understand, because I say to teachers in that class, I say, “I think you’re just saying that black children do not like to read.” Well, have you ever thought about it’s what you’re giving them to read?

Melyssa Barrett:  Right.

Tamara Shiloh:  I mean, because when they come into my bookstore, which is another story and I’ll share it. When they come in, they get excited about seeing their little faces on the covers of books. And their parents are like, “Oh my gosh.” So I know it works. I have parents who come back and say, “Oh my God, I cannot believe he actually read the book.” Or whatever. So, that’s the thing. So, okay. So you want me to?

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. So I mean, yeah. Tell us about your bookstore. I know you have one in Richmond.

Tamara Shiloh:  Right. It started… Oh my gosh. I’m going to fast forward on that too. So initially there were three of us, and then there were two, because one of the partners, she had the inventory because she did mobile book sale. She did conferences and things like that. Huge. So she had a garage bookstore if you will. So she actually provided the inventory for the store initially. And initially it was only supposed to be a pop up for a couple months, but we did so well. They asked us in the mall to stay. Well, one of the partners, she didn’t want to. She just wanted to continue to do what she did so we purchased the inventory from her. So then there were just two of us. And so last year she decided that she didn’t want to do this anymore, focus on her non-profit. So here I am, a bookstore owner, I’m like, “Okay,” but I had a lot of support from the community. They loved the bookstore. It was a lovely bookstore. I mean, I really just say so myself.

The one thing that parents, that everybody was really happy about is that all the books were. So you don’t need to know names of authors and you didn’t need to know names of books because a lot of people, myself included, I don’t know names of books. I don’t know names of authors, but when you go walk into a bookstore and wow you don’t have to know any of that information, you can just see, it just made a world of difference.

I tell people it’s not the Barnes & Noble or the other bookstores don’t carry black books, Latino books, Asian, they just.. you don’t know the name of the book or the names of the authors, it’s kind of hard to find them. And we wanted to make sure that people didn’t have to worry about that. And so that was one of the things that made people really happy. And in the bookstore, I did a lot of things. I had black history classes, I had STEM classes, I had a [inaudible 00:12:26], we did story time every Saturday, I had enough space where we could have networking, dance or birthday parties. So it was a cool spot. I did a lot, and so-

Melyssa Barrett:  More than a bookstore.

Tamara Shiloh:  Right? Exactly. So the translation is a little right now, because the space is different. And so I’m not going to open up the walk in until I get this [inaudible 00:12:54] and until I get it as close to the store in the mall as I can. It won’t be the exact, but I want people to feel the same type of experience that they had there. So we’re doing online. So I do have an online store and we still do story time on Saturdays. And okay, real quickly, I’m going to do a commercial.

Melyssa Barrett:  Tell them about it, tell them.

Tamara Shiloh:  Jingle Jangle. Yeah. Have you watched that?

Melyssa Barrett:  No.

Tamara Shiloh:  Are you even familiar with it?

Melyssa Barrett:  Which one… What are you talking about?

Tamara Shiloh:  Jingle Jangle. Okay. Well, first of all, go watch the video. I mean the movie, it’s on Netflix and Jingle Jangle is a black Christmas musical. Oh my God. It’s so wonderful. My face was hurting because I was smiling so bad just… Forest Whitaker is in there, and some of the other people, Oh, what’s her name? Debbie Allen’s sister, Phylicia Rashād.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes.

Tamara Shiloh:  It is so… Oh my God. I’m excited thinking about it. Well, here’s the part I wanted to really cheer. So the author of the book, her publicity person contacted me and asked if they could do a Zoom story time with the store. So on December the 12th, we’re going to have Zoom with the Jingle Jangle author, Lyn Sisson-Talbert. She and her husband created this. So she wrote two books. She has, The Square Root of Possible. That is a picture book that she’ll be reading. And then Jingle Jangle. She’ll be discussing Jingle Jangle on December 12th at two o’clock. Okay. 

Melyssa Barrett:  Fantastic.

Tamara Shiloh:  Yeah.

Melyssa Barrett:  Fantastic. So, and they can go to your website for more information or?

Tamara Shiloh:  Yes, they can. The link is there, obviously it’s not good until December 12th, but yes they can go to the multiculturalbookstore.com. And I think she’s put it right at the beginning actually, but it’s also on the story time tab also. So-

Melyssa Barrett:  Let’s pause for a moment, we’ll be right back.

Well, and I noticed you have books specifically on many cultures, including African American, Latino, Asian, South Asian, Native American, Middle Eastern, and then you even go into biracial disability, diversity, LGBTQ, and all sorts of genres from babies to adults-

Tamara Shiloh:  Exactly.

Melyssa Barrett:  … which is, everybody doesn’t necessarily do that when they have a bookstore because that’s tends to be-

Tamara Shiloh:  When we started this, it was very important, right. We have black stores, okay. I’ve never seen a Latino bookstore or an Asian bookstore. And we thought it was important to include everybody. And it has turned out to be a wonderful experience. The other thing that happened with all this stuff, with all being black, hitting on the social justice movement. I had no social justice books. I didn’t, I mean, and I was embarrassed. I’m like, all the books that were out there on social justice. I never heard of any of them. And the children’s books, but I will say a lot of those books got written this year. I mean, many of them, but there are many that have been around a long time.

So, that was a whole different section of books that I had to buy. And then I bought more black people history books because people were like, “Okay, let’s get into that as well.” So yeah. And I’m happy teachers come in, they’re just like, “Oh my God, everything is right in one setting,” because pretty good selection of multicultural books. I will say that my focus is on black children, black children books, but I have a really good selection of all the others and I’m… actually, as we speak, I’m trying to get dollars so that I can increase the other books.

Melyssa Barrett:  And I think it’s so interesting because even after the George Floyd murder, we saw so many people looking for information.

Tamara Shiloh:  Exactly.

Melyssa Barrett:  And so there were lots of resources, whether it be books or videos or movies or whatever, to kind of get people interested in just understanding the history and how things have evolved and what the experience is like for people all over the world, really.

Tamara Shiloh:  Exactly. And then the big rush on supporting black bookstores. 

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes.

Tamara Shiloh: As a matter of fact, we were featured in Oprah’s magazine.

Melyssa Barrett:  Awesome.

Tamara Shiloh:  And we as a black bookstore in California and we actually, we actually were put on the map. That was really… I mean, because she did a map and pinpointed the different stores where she actually put our store on the map. 

Melyssa Barrett:  That’s exciting. Oprah knows who you are.

Tamara Shiloh:  Well, I mean hello, [inaudible 00:18:33]. Yeah. So there’s been a lot of that too. As a result of that I’ve gotten… I’m doing stuff. The 49ers are using me with a book thing that they’re doing with the elementary schools in San Francisco.

Melyssa Barrett:  Fantastic.

Tamara Shiloh:  I mean and she through the article, I’m like, “Okay.”

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes, that’s fabulous. Well, and there’s so many things as we get into Kwanzaa and all the principles surrounding Kwanzaa, the cooperative economics components, there’s all these opportunities for us to really kind of share in that success and build each other up as we lift each other. So I think that’s awesome to be able to take your passion for, kind of learning and really shape it into a black history development class for teachers, because you start talking about diversity and inclusion. I was just interviewing somebody last week and they were talking about, they got their start in diversity and inclusion in the schools.

Tamara Shiloh:  Oh wow.

Melyssa Barrett:  And helping teachers understand how to teach and include in their curriculum.

Tamara Shiloh:  Okay.

Melyssa Barrett:  So it’s so important to get that engagement early so that we see the opportunities for success for children all around. So I think it’s fabulous what you’re doing. So what does black history month look like for you? When you’re… because I know you’re also doing publishing classes and you’ve got, I want to say Tuskegee Airmen, corporations, dinners, and speaking engagements going. So there’s just so much work to be done.

Tamara Shiloh:  Of course that’s the busy month for me. And I just, at first I was resenting being called black history month, right. And I’m like, “Serious.” I mean, so my thing is now I say, “Okay, let’s use black history month as the start of your doing it year round-

Melyssa Barrett:  Absolutely. Yes.

Tamara Shiloh:  … okay, so… but it’s a good time of the year. And of course I’ve just put an emphasis on, okay, you’re doing this now, but you could do this in July.

Melyssa Barrett:  Right.

Tamara Shiloh:  But yeah, it is what it is.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. Well, I talk a lot about Kwanzaa and I go, Kwanzaa should be every day. All those principles are things you should have in your life all the time. Right. So, Kwanzaa every day, is my thing.

Tamara Shiloh:  Exactly. Yeah. Black history month, it’s a busy month for me. And I’m beginning to enjoy it instead of being very angry because it is just 30 day.

Melyssa Barrett:  Right.

Tamara Shiloh:  But yeah, it is kind of nice that people are embracing it, but I think part of the problem is that they just don’t know. They just, educators don’t have the information and they too are tired of talking about the same folks every year. I mean, they know that there are other people who’ve contributed, but they aren’t taking the time to find out because my thing is. Okay, everything that I say in this class, you can Google okay, but you’ve got to want to Google.

Melyssa Barrett:  Right. Depends on what you’re searching.

Tamara Shiloh:  Right. I can’t teach you to want to teach.

Melyssa Barrett:  Right.

Tamara Shiloh:  I can help you along the way. So if that’s not your thing and you’re just here because your principal made you be here. I mean, okay, it’s a waste of your time, not mine because you’re going to leave here knowing something, what you do with it is on.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. Well, that’s a quote in itself. “I can’t teach you to want to teach.”

Tamara Shiloh:  Right. Exactly. And so my books, a friend of mine and I have created lesson plans around my books. So we’re all excited about that. So I will start incorporating that into my professional development class.

Melyssa Barrett:  Awesome.

Tamara Shiloh:  So they will actually have a lesson plan, whereas it really was designed just to give them information.

Melyssa Barrett:  Right.

Tamara Shiloh:  And show them examples of how they can do it, not a lesson plan, but we decided to incorporate that. So yeah. 

Melyssa Barrett:  That’s fantastic. And I know you said you’re also beginning your own podcast soon.

Tamara Shiloh:  Yes. So the other thing that I do, I write the weekly black history column for The Post newspaper here. And it’s in five or six cities I think. And I also record a two minute black history vignettes for KDYA. And so they post those, I like four or five and they post them all month.

Melyssa Barrett:  Okay.

Tamara Shiloh:  And then, so I was sending out an email every day, Monday to Friday, and it was your dose of black history, but I got so busy, COVID hit, doing the online store. Oh my gosh. So I didn’t have time to do it anymore. So then I decided, okay, I’ve done some videos for the professional development class. Right. So I’m like, “Okay, I kind of like this.” Right. So I was talking to a friend of mine and I said, “Okay, why don’t I do you a five minute dose of black history.” And I’m like, “Okay.” So she just told me, I think the first one is December. We were going to wait until January, but I think she said, I think it’s December 23rd if I’m not mistaken.

Melyssa Barrett:  Okay. Great, that’s before Christmas and Kwanzaa.

Tamara Shiloh:  I’ll confirm that with you. Yeah. Oh, well actually the first one is going to be on Mary Fields. She was Stagecoach, black woman, she’s funny. I mean, I enjoy talking about her cause she is so… Mary she’s like six feet tall, big black woman with a rifle. Right.

Melyssa Barrett:  I know a few of those.

Tamara Shiloh:  It’s a fun story. Yeah. But yeah. So I decided, okay, let’s get back to… Let me get back to providing a little dose of black history every [crosstalk 00:24:52]. [inaudible 00:24:52] something to look forward to because I did. When I stopped doing it I got a lot of email, okay, where is it? Right. I’m also going to do a blog, but the good thing about that is I have it all written already. So just to give folks more information, a place to go and read more about what black folks have and are doing-

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. Do you have specific people that you, I mean, you talked about Mary, are there a few others that you think people may not know about that they find interesting?

Tamara Shiloh:  Oh my gosh. One of the things, I can’t think of her name, but the lady they said, invented the iron board, I get a kick out of that because she didn’t create the iron board. She created an attachment for the sleeve for the iron board, okay. So I do talk about that a lot. It’s just like George Washington Carver. He did not create peanut butter, but okay. He created a hundred other things to do with peanut butter but that he didn’t. He was a genius when it came to agriculture, which was really very cool or that Dr. Hale performed the first heart surgery. That’s just very cool or that a dentist, Dr. George Grant created the first golf tee. That’s always… everything.

I mean, so people know about Garrett Morgan and the signal light. We know about the gas mask and he did a lot of other things as well. Oh, just like the real McCoy. Okay. So they… So it’s whoever you want to believe that it came from Elijah McCoy but that’s the story I heard or last thing was crop, but he creates first potato chip. So they want to argue with me about that. Oh, well I’m here. I mean, so who are you going to believe? Right?

Melyssa Barrett:  Right, right, right.

Tamara Shiloh:  Or that, one more, I mean, Oh my God. Oh my gosh. I can’t think of… The whiskey that’s the man’s name anyway. Oh my goodness.

Melyssa Barrett:  It will come to you. It will come to you but they-

Tamara Shiloh:  The black guy who actually taught them how to do that. We’ve done so many things in the background, that it’s been tough for black folks. I mean, they couldn’t get a because black folks weren’t considered citizens or even people if you will so…

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Tamara Shiloh:  So I don’t apologize for it. Oh yeah. I’m going to say this again. When I first started writing these books and I went to the library a few times and I remember the librarian asked me, so how do you know this information is true? So I took me like 2.3 seconds [inaudible 00:27:59]. Do you own a set of Encyclopedia Britannica? [inaudible 00:28:02] was like, “Of course I do.” So I said, “Well, how do you know that information is true?” [inaudible 00:28:08] I was like, and it was like, okay, you believe what you believe. All right. I don’t care if you don’t believe that but, they wrote it. These are PhDs who wrote these books. The same as the folks who write the information, than the encyclopedia, so…

Melyssa Barrett:  Well, and it’s so interesting to me because I mean, you look at anybody’s story. Like their story may be different than the story of the person next door. We always look for different things, but yet our perspectives bring life and connection to all the other things that are going on. So you can’t invalidate my story just because your story is different, right.

Tamara Shiloh:  Not only that, we’ve invalidated all that crap, I mean just think of all the fake news and history that we’ve been taught all this time, which is a [inaudible 00:29:08], you know what I’m saying. How long did you know Christopher… you thought, Christopher Columbus was the first to… I mean, and so, anyway but yeah I don’t worry about that anymore.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. Well, and I think it’s so important for us to tell our own stories. And as you know, I mean, my focus… my husband was a storyteller. So to me, it’s like, when we start talking about diversity and inclusion and you get into your story, everybody has a story and it’s just so relevant because you’re touching people with your story, no matter where you are or who you’re with. And you may not be touching some people, but you’re definitely touching people.

Tamara Shiloh:  Well let me just tell you one other thing. You can not stand one day in your life without a black person touching you in some form or fashion.

Melyssa Barrett:  All right. You heard it from Tamara, a black person that’s touching you somewhere, somehow every day. I love it.

Tamara Shiloh:  In your house, we’ve done something outside that we’ve done, something job we’ve done. I don’t care where you go. We’ve done something, somewhere.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes, yes, no, that’s true. And you know, at the end of the day, there’s so much more to be done and there’s so many things we can do. So it’s just so exciting to see so many people doing such amazing work in the community, in the ability to really reach back and touch generations of people. So your, efforts in your community are amazing. I’m glad they are broadening nationally or internationally. So I’m looking forward to seeing you continue to thrive and continue to feed us information, to create better awareness in the community and for our allies around the world. So congratulations to you.

Tamara Shiloh:  Thank you.

Melyssa Barrett:  I’m so glad that I got to speak with you for a few minutes and-

Tamara Shiloh:  I appreciate your even reaching out. Thank you so much. I appreciate showing initiative.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes. Well, keep doing what you’re doing. I’m excited. I think the more we talk about our cultures and our… We will start to appreciate the myriad of multi-cultures that we have and what we bring to each other. So I hope it only continues to fuel the dialogue. So thank you so much for joining me.

Tamara Shiloh:  You’re very, very, very welcome. Thank you.

Melyssa Barrett:  Thanks for joining me on The Jali Podcast, please subscribe. So you won’t miss an episode. See you next week.