Mental Health Awareness Month - Q&A with Sumer Strawbree
Sumer Strawbree is a middle school student in Central Florida and the author and illustrator of two coloring books Black, Brown and Beautiful and Glow Up. She has a third book on the way called My Career Glow Up. We caught up with her for Mental Health Awareness Month to discuss her mission to boost young girls’ self-esteem by sharing positive affirmations.
How did you develop the concept of a coloring book with positive affirmations?
At the beginning of my art journey, I drew all types of girls except for black girls. Over time, as my drawings improved, my dad noticed my preference and suggested that I start drawing black and brown girls that looked like me.
He later introduced me to the Doll Test, which started in the 1940s, gauging black children’s selfesteem and self-image. Black psychologists Dr. Kenneth Clark and Dr. Mamie Phipps Clark asked 253 Black children aged 3 to 7 years old which doll, Black or white, was good and which doll was bad. The majority of the children chose the white doll as being good and the Black doll as being the bad one. Their self-esteem was already ruined due to segregated schools.
Furthermore, I was also bullied by other kids at school because I have long fingers. They would laugh at me and compare their shorter fingers to mine. To make matters worse, I was also bullied about having a crooked tooth, which ruined my self-esteem. For many years, I found it difficult to show my teeth when I smiled.
My dad introduced me to affirmations, and I read them every day, rebuilding my self-esteem. Now, I’ve made it my mission to save and improve girls’ drowning self-esteem with positive affirmations and positive imagery.
I grew a library of more than 30 colorful drawings of black and brown girls with different hairstyles, shapes, sizes and abilities! My dad suggested that I remove the color and what was left was just line art which birthed my first coloring book, Black, Brown and Beautiful.
What inspired you to become an illustrator?
I naturally became a professional illustrator as I transitioned from drawing with paper, pencil and high-end markers into digital illustration.
With the assistance of YouTube tutorials, I taught myself how to draw digitally with Procreate app, which involves drawing on separate layers for line art, coloring, highlights, shadows, detail, etc.
What motivates you to spread awareness about mental health and diversity?
I’m motivated knowing that there’s a girl like me in my neighborhood, city, state, country and around the world that has been bullied or suffers from low self-esteem and could use a little reminder that she is not alone. I say, we don’t want to focus our energy on those that try to dim our light. Let’s focus on rebuilding and protecting our positive energy!
I’m motivated to spread diversity awareness, because I’ve felt that school curriculums overall haven’t put forth the best effort to educate its diverse students on the positive achievements of black and brown girls throughout history and even presently. What is great is that all types of people Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, Indian have purchased my book, because we all have something in common. That is self-esteem.
Who is your biggest influence and/or role model?
My dad is my biggest male influence. He is the machine behind much of what you see. He makes sure the world experiences me, my art and my positive affirmations! He always tells me he isn’t waiting until I’m 18 years old for me to start figuring out what I want to do. He says the time is now and that I am already a professional artist! I love my dad.
Oprah is one of my biggest female influences. She has epic inspirational quotes and advice on manifestation on YouTube. I watched one of her shows on manifestation and heard that she used to use vision boards, but it got so powerful that she can manifest things without it! You can see a picture that I drew of her on my Instagram page.
Do you have more coloring books in the works?
Yes. I will be releasing my third coloring book with positive affirmations, called My Career Glow Up, right before school is out in May. It features but is not limited to a female Supreme Court Justice, real estate broker, politician and an executive chef. This book focuses on showing representation of black and brown girls in powerful career choices. Imagine a girl repeating to themselves daily, “I am a politician, I am a politician.” Their subconscious mind would be influenced so much that they’d start placing themselves unknowingly in opportunities that would manifest that career in due time.
May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. To see a complete listing of all of the library's Mental Health Awareness Month events, visit ocls.info/classes-events/hashtag/mental-health-awareness.
Be sure to look up Sumer Strawbree’s appearance on The Kelly Clarkson Show and other interviews on her YouTube channel. Follow her on Instagram, Facebook, or Linkedin @sumerstrawbree. For more information and to download free coloring pages, visit sumerstrawbree.com.
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