The levels of anti-blackness in the world can be seen all over the place in all forms of media. Our achievements as a community are constantly undermined. Our style and grace are stolen for profit. We’re never given the absolute credit that we fully deserve. But, what would it be like if there wasn’t any Black people in the world? What would the Kardashians do? Well, authorpreneur, AKA, mother, sister, and friend, Mrs. Erica Burrell, decided to tell the story through a self-illustrated educational book entitled, What Would The World Be without Black People.
Melanated and Educated had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Mrs. Burrell about her journey growing up in foster care to falling in love with education, her inspiration for the book, and what’s next in the life of a true go-getter.
ME: Erica, tell us a little bit about yourself. Your background and where you are in life now?
EB: I’m from San Francisco, CA and I moved to Phoenix, AZ with my husband and my two-year old daughter a few years ago. I have one older sister who is four years older and one young sister who is 10 years younger than me. I grew up in the city (San Francisco) and was in and out of my mother’s house. My older sister left the home at 14 and moved to LA. Then I left home at 15 when I went into foster care. So I definitely love my sisters, we’re close but we weren’t really raised together, which is an interesting dynamic now that I’m an adult.
Looking back on the situation, in terms of my overall upbringing, I was a lowkey knucklehead and I got into trouble a lot. I think just being in foster care and having a mother who was a recovering addict made me scattered, as I moved around a lot.
My goal was definitely stability in terms of making money. So school wasn’t a priority for me. I missed a lot of school growing up because I was working and at that time, I was working at Joe’s Crab Shack. I was like missing high school to go to be a waitress because they allowed it, which is completely illegal. But I didn’t know that at the time and quite frankly, I didn’t care. I think for a long time my focus was on survival. So I wasn’t really worried about my career.
I wasn’t worried about what I wanted to do in the world as I was worried about paying my bills because at that time, I already had very, very real bills. The city and County of San Francisco did a terrible job of ensuring that I was provided for when I did step into their foster system. Basically, my whole perspective shifted when I received a letter from the city and County of San Francisco, telling me that when I turned 18 years old, I would have to leave my housing.
Erica detailed how this was a wake-up call and she needed to secure housing. It wasn’t until someone shared with her how being in college, you could get housing that she started thinking about attending a university. Yet, it wasn’t the degree that she was interested in, but having a place to secure her head. Of course, she had to navigate the unchartered waters of applying to college as a first generation college student and was accepted into 11 different universities before finding a home at Dillard University, an HBCU.
It was the first time that I realized people who looked like me had so much greatness to them. It was the first time I saw black professors. I remember the first time I went to a black nail shop wondering, is she really going to be able to do my nails because you’re not Asian? I realized that my whole perspective and mindset around what it meant to be black was skewed from my limited exposure. Being from the Potrero hill projects, then moving to the Tenderloin Projects, which is a drug-filled community, provided very negative views on black people. I had this very limited perspective and then I got to New Orleans, which really opened my mind. It changed my mindset from I’m just here to survive to I’m alive now to thrive. And it was the first time I learned about black Greek letter organizations. I mean, it changed me so much. This is also the place where the fire for education continued to develop.
Erica described the personal connections that she had with many of the young students that she met via education. While teaching in the lower ninth ward and simultaneously working at McDonald’s, she understood the power of the connections she made with her students and saw a difference between her and the other teachers. The students vibed with her because of her lived experiences, which is something that can’t be taught. Shortly after New Orleans, Erica moved to Atlanta where she started at Georgia State and learned about financial literacy. After learning so much, she made the decision to move back to San Francisco and finish schooling.
ME: What inspired you to write your book and what inspired you to get into writing?
I have two books right now. The first book is called, What The World Be Without Black People. The story is about a little boy who wishes he lived in a world with no black people. So for one weekend, he gets his wish and all Black contributions are completely stripped away. So he can’t use the elevator because the doors were invented by a Black man. He can’t use the car because the automatic gear shift was created by Richard Spikes. By the end of the story, he realizes his life would look extremely different if it weren’t for Black people. I used to teach behavioral issue classes, which are courses that housed students who were fully competent, but had behavior concerns. I recall a white student who mimicked Eminem in a lot of ways, (in terms of his overall style) who was upset that he couldn’t use the N-word. I spoke to him about it and he said, “I don’t even know why we need Black people anyway”. The fact that he said it aloud despite him knowing howI am in my class about Blackness was infuriating. My kids always walked away from my classes with a little more melanin in them because they’re going to learn about Black history. I have a whole curriculum that I would teach and of course, I’d get in trouble here and there, but I didn’t care. So anyways this white student said the N-word and was upset that he got into trouble for it. I told him, you can’t comprehend all that’s been done for you and your privilege is showing and you’re only in the eighth grade. You want all these elements of what you think Black culture is without respecting or even learning black history.
You want the way you think Black people speak or dress or talk or you know all of these other things , but you still don’t want to learn about Black history, you don’t want it. You don’t want to acknowledge Black contributions. I remember really educating him and trying to get him to understand where his statement came from and why it’s problematic. I remember saying this information should be a book, there should be a book that clearly illustrates who we are and allows others to understand what we’ve contributed and are actively contributing.. My goal is for everyone to finish this book and have them say, “Black people are dope”.
I used to do slam poetry as a means of paying my bills. So I started writing really, really young. I remember having a problem because I wasn’t able to legally get into the clubs in the Bay where I would compete. But I’ve always been a writer for as long as I can remember. I would write and I think that came from being raised not to trust anybody. So if I write it down and I keep it to myself it helped with my processing. I won some big titles and I was on HBO, Brave New Voices which is a spoken word documentary and they did a terrible job displaying me. They made me look like someone I am not and this pushed me away from writing. I stopped writing after years because of it. I picked the pen back up recently.
ME: How did you go about selecting contributors in the book?
EB: I tried to do a combination of people from the past and the present. I think too many times black people are known as being either athletes or rappers. Like we don’t really get a lot of credit for everything else. In the book, I put in a few athletes and maybe even a few rappers, but I made sure to highlight us from almost every field. I have actors, mathematicians, and then you have politicians. I got Ava in there, who is a director. Madam CJ Walker, who was one of the first black female millionaires and got her shine during the Spanish flu. So, you know, millionaires do come out of pandemics! I tried to highlight both black men and black women from fields that we just don’t acknowledge. I want my books to be part of school curriculum so our people understand their power and potential. This is needed history.
ME: What do you want people to say about your book when they see it and they pick it up?
EB: I want people to look at my book and say, “this book is dope, it’s going to teach me more about who I am” I also want people to know that it’s not a book just for Black people. A lot of times we know how great we are. Other races and ethnicities should know how great we are too. It’s not specific to us.
ME: What other projects are you working on? Published Power?
My goal through this work is to have an education system that educates our children that helps and empowers them. We have a school that teaches about financial literacy, self-advocacy, and accountability. I want kids to read fluently and create budgets as young as five years old. I want children to know Black and Hispanic history to reflect the community that our children come from. Burrell Academy started in 2018 in my home and we are moving into a year-round facility next year that is designed for our children. Kids will experience loving education and empowerment. Proceeds from the books will go to Burrell Academy and the school supports the babies.
Published Power published my books, they sell my books. The brand behind Published Power is Books for the Soul. So everything that comes out of that company will be specific to empowerment and some sort of societal message. The whole energy behind that company is putting out work that’s really going to empower and educate folks. You can buy and purchase my books through this platform, your support is appreciated.
In terms of my projects, I had my second book come out, which is Strong Like A Girl, which follows the story of Rosa and all these people kind of telling her what she can’t do because she’s a girl. Strong Like a Girl is a book on gender equality and the power of being a woman or girl. There’s a teacher’s edition of the book, complete with coloring pages, lesson plans and activities on gender equality. So for anybody trying to find lesson plans for their children this will teach them about gender equality and women’s rights. aAlso, know that I illustrated everything on both books by myself after teaching myself how to make it happen. You can notice the level of detail and progression between the books.
ME: What’s one question you wished I asked?
EB: I wish you asked about the process of being an author that’s not shown. You get on social media and its very selective. We booked the event and paid everything for the release of What the World Would Be Without Black People and we were affected heavily by COVID-19.It’s difficult doing this on your own, it’s not easy. We had to purchase items locally paying 3x what we would have if we ordered overseas. It’s not easy and know that you’re going to face a lot of issues. Finding a dope partner is critical to the process as well.
ME: Thank you so much for time today. You gave our readers so many gems and reaffirmed the purpose of such an important book for our kids.
EB: Of course! Make sure you connect with me and I will follow back. That’s the type of person that I am. I appreciate all of the love.
Interested in connecting with Erica? Here is her info:
Youtube: Burrell Academy