Gaylia is a retired teacher with thirty-one years of experience and is the author of George Crum and the Saratoga Chip ( Lee & Low Books) "The book is an account of the life and career of George Crum, a biracial chef who is credited with the invention of the potato chip at a Saratoga Springs, New York restaurant in 1853." (via Lee & Low Books)
Most of her writings are inspired from travels, research and passion.
Briefly describe the impact racism had on you as a young person?
At a young age in the mid 1950’s racism didn’t have a big impact on my life. I lived in a black northern urban city. We walked to school, came home for lunch and returned for the afternoon hours. We always planned our day, stopping at the drugstore, library, candy store and of course we couldn’t pass up the delicious pastries in the window of the bakery. We were happy and comfortable with our childhood years.
The corner groceries and businesses were owned by Jewish men. Our school principal and faculty were white. It wasn’t until the fourth grade that I had a black male student teacher. We were fascinated! He was our first role model outside of our immediate family. However, we were able to maintain our identity without feeling any racial prejudices. At that time, we were united in our “all black neighborhoods” which insulated us from racism.
It wasn’t until the fifth grade that all of that changed for me. My family moved to the suburbs. I went from a predominantly black culture to being the only black child in my fifth and sixth grade class. The blacks that did go to my school lived in the same integrated neighborhood and we united together for support.
Racism seemed to be greater in groups and less on a one-on-one basis. I learned that individuals were willing to understand and accept differences. This childhood experience helped me to become more tolerant towards other cultures.
Has your personal experience of racism impacted your professional work?
My childhood experiences have helped to shape my purpose and what I want to share with society. After publishing three early emergent readers and a PB. a person of another culture asked me if I was going to write “other stuff”. Meaning, am I going to write material that is not directly representing people of the black race. I was completely startled.
The answer to that is yes, and someday I probably will, but I have to go with my heart. I consider my books to have a message for all cultures.
In what way can literature be used to combat the effects of racism and promote tolerance?
Literature for me has always been a magical vehicle to invade and experience a different world, culture time and space. As a child, I can remember having my mother read the “Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes” over and over. I would turn the pages and be fascinated with the illustrations and words because it was so different from my world. Could this be so? Is this castle real, do they really exist?
During the 40’s and 50’s the literature that we read at home and in school did not represent the black race. It was as if we didn’t exist. We were totally excluded from the world we lived in. So, we created our own separate world to validate our identity and at the same time embraced the literature that was available. Today, we can celebrate, we are included. Literature has played an important part in promoting tolerance, and putting us into the game of life.
Literature is the best way to bridge the gap to tolerance. When we read, we are taking in the information for ourselves without chatter from outside forces. I believe literature forces us to search deep into our souls and reach that common peace that all cultures share.
That’s why it is so important for artist and authors to keep writing and illustrating to tell their stories, because there are readers out there and they are listening.
It is the faith in the future of children’s hopes and dreames that sparks her urge to write for them and about them.