When the pandemic and social unrest first gripped the world in 2020, author and Baptist minister Khristi Lauren Adams noticed Black teenage girls on the front lines of protests as drivers of change and hope. Adams, who portrayed the struggles and resilience of anonymous girls of color in her first book, Parable of the Brown Girl, felt led to share specific names and stories in a new book, Unbossed: How Black Girls Are Leading the Way (Broadleaf, Mar. 8). It profiles eight rising strategists, entrepreneurs, visionaries, and activists who are working toward a better future.
“We were watching social injustices and a global pandemic occur on television, but I was also watching young people really take the stage and lead the way when it came to the political, racial, and climate change issues we were facing in the nation,” Adams tells PW. “The class of 2020 was going through the end of their high school year or even graduating college virtually, so there was this hyper-focus on Gen Z, how they were doing, and what they were doing.”
Adams, who has worked for years as a youth advocate, understands that adult leaders aren’t the only people we can learn from. Questions arose for her about what is was like for “a young Black girl in a pandemic, in this post-Donald Trump, Barack Obama world, doing active shooter drills and still being a teenager.”
She adds: “What is it in them that wakes up every morning and continues to keep going? I have not experienced that. So we need to speak to them and hear from them, because there's a gem there that can really add to our own lives.”
Unbossed, Adams writes, means being “unapologetic in their calling and approach to leading on their own terms.” This includes 16-year-old Ssanyu Lukoma who created Brown Kids Read, an initiative to foster more reading opportunities for children of color, and Tyah-Amoy Roberts, a school shooting survivor who has organized demonstrations in an effort to improve the safety of young Americans.
The book also analyzes the various leadership styles of each individual, and connects them to Black women leaders from history. “We can learn about their resilience, creativity, innovation, and we can be inspired by them,” Adams says.
Releasing simultaneously, a companion book for middle-grade readers called Black Girls Unbossed, is a reimagined version of Unbossed specifically designed for young readers between the ages of 9-12. Valerie Weaver-Zercher, Unbossed editor, says readers of both books can discover familiar stories as well as narratives about little-known change-makers of the past.
“She introduces readers to women like Septima Pointsette Clark, who created ‘citizenship schools’ that taught 25,000 adults to read, and MaVynee Oshun Betsch, a twentieth-century environmental activist, and Claudette Colvin, a 15-year-old who refused to give up her bus seat to a white woman in 1955,” Weaver-Zercher says. “By illuminating the links between Black women’s work in different eras, Khristi gives readers a rich portrait of Black women’s wisdom for leadership and activism.”