Author Brittney Dias couldn’t bring the Pacific Northwest to New York City, but her work remains as evergreen as her hometown of Tacoma, Wash. She penned her “Ava & Mae” series for Black youngsters who rarely see themselves in the children’s genre outside of picture books about the Civil Rights Movement.
“There are very [few] stories out there that just portray Black children—normal kids—having fun like white children get in their media,” said Dias. “And that is where they get started.”
Her characters open lemonade stands and organize fashion shows. This work started when Dias noticed on classroom read-alongs how overwhelmingly white the faculty and students were around her. To many of them, “Ava & Mae” served as anti-racism education and diversity training. But for the handful of Black children she encountered, Dias recalls the indelible impact her stories made on them.
“There was a girl in the front—and the little Black girls always go right to the front [and are] always so excited to see an empowering story that represents them,” she said. “She looked at the characters and she was like, ‘Wow, I love their hair, their hair looks just like my hair. I love Ava and Mae.’ And she’s touching her hair.”
The girl also touched Dias’s heart. Not too long ago, the author felt like the world was ending. Her public health studies at the University of Washington took a real-life turn when the pandemic hit in during her junior year. Dias halted her long-term plans, ambivalent about the future. For a spell, she floated around the possibility of grad school. But the Black Lives Matter movement burgeoned over the summer. Soon, Dias found herself pouring all her energy into social advocacy—and found her calling.
She managed to parlay her public health education into a job at a startup as a racial equity advisor for Black entrepreneurship. Her new job planted seeds for more diverse stories. Dias soon secured funding and ultimately grew the idea into the “Ava & Mae” series and her children’s book company, Looking Lens. Today, her work can be found at Barnes & Noble, Walmart, and Amazon.
At this point, Dias was fully “adulting” and moved from home. She’s the daughter of a Jamaican immigrant and her father’s family largely came to the tri-state area when coming to the United States. New York City made sense, so she moved to Brooklyn.
Dias is fitting in swimmingly. These days, she’s frequently at the Brooklyn Museum pop-up market, meeting like-minded folks.
“There’s so much Black talent around here and Black entrepreneurship out here,” said Dias. “That contrast [with] the Seattle area, where there is not this amount of diversity, to being here and being able to work with so many fellow Black entrepreneurs, has been really refreshing.”
Tandy Lau is a Report for America corps member and writes about public safety for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting https://bit.ly/amnews1.