St. Thomas Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion Artika Tyner released in October her third children’s picture book, “Joey and Grandpa Johnson’s Day in Rondo,” as a part of an eight-part series of stories about the Rondo neighborhood in St. Paul.
The story follows two fictional characters, a young boy named Joey and his Grandpa Johnson, who grew up in the historic neighborhood. On Joey’s weekly Saturday adventure with his grandpa, he learns about the rich cultural heritage of his community and the power of entrepreneurship.
“I wanted to tell the story about the first lesson that my grandfather taught me about diversity inclusion,” Tyner said. “Unless we have financial inclusion as a part of that story, then it is not effective at all.”
The Rondo community developed in the early 1930s and grew to be Minnesota’s largest black neighborhood. As an economically vibrant and rich-cultured community, the region was divided due to the addition of Interstate 94 in the ‘60s.
According to the Rondo Avenue website, the construction of I-94 destroyed nearly 600 homes and 300 businesses, displacing thousands of African American citizens across the metro.
“When we think about something as simple as transportation, how to get some place further and faster,” Tyner said, “what it really meant for African Americans is displacement, political disenfranchisement and fear.”
As a civil rights attorney and activist, Tyner began to research communities like hers and soon realized that Rondo was not the only place to go through this disenfranchisement.
With over 1,000 cities to go through displacement and cultural division, Tyner felt impelled to share her story in order to “ignite” a movement.
“Part of writing the book for me was not just about having fun and telling my Rondo story,” Tyner said. “It is about legacy.”
In Black Ink, a nonprofit publishing initiative, partnered with the Minnesota Historical Society and the co-founders of the annual Rondo Days celebration, Marvin Anderson and Floyd, Smaller to create a series that preserved the culture and the eight core values of the St. Paul Rondo community.
The core values consist of the importance of education, work ethic, faith, home ownership, economic independence, social interaction, hope and respect.
“We are proud that we are able to help create this series for the children to understand the stories of the whole community, not just knowing it through a parade or celebration that just annually occurs,” In Black Ink Executive Director Rehket Si-Asar said.
Si-Asar said that though there have been stories written about Rondo, there have not been any narratives that offer a perspective geared toward educating children.
“We are breaking barriers as (two local) authors of color, main characters of color and publisher of color,” Tyner said. “I want to let them know that they are not alone in isolation and, more importantly, that we took some pain and turned it into a story of healing and transformation.”
Ava Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.