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DC author uses books to advocate for children of color, neurodivergent youth

A portion of the proceeds from “A Special Little Girl” will go towards autism research and providing resources for children diagnosed within communities of color.

WASHINGTON — All heroes don't wear capes, but have you ever thought, maybe some heroes aren't people at all? A D.C.-based author is testing this logic by letting children's books help youth.

Derrick Jakolby Washington, 39, also known as Uncle Kolby, has put his passions, interests, and core values to the forefront in an effort to help advocate for the younger generations. When starting on his writing journey, Washington was inspired by family and friends. 

"Essentially what got me on or into writing books was the senseless killing of George Floyd," Washington said. "I did not set out to be a children's book author. It was something that kind of just happened, and I feel like it was really, like, ordained."

With a light but stern tone to his voice, Washington said that like many other people, he sat down after the Floyd killing and took time to reconcile his thoughts and emotions. One thing he started to think of - his nephew, who was born just six months prior. What would the world look like for him in the next so many years?

"Will the world continue to see him based on the color of his skin," he questioned. "Or will they see him for all that he's capable of and all that he brings to the earth?"

This is when Washington began to pen his thoughts which morphed into a poem. Once he read the poem aloud to his sister, she suggested the idea of turning it into a children's book. The book was later named "Son, You Matter."

The story follows a boy, Ahmed, who looks up to his father and is excited because after school they plan to go get ice cream together. What would typically be a special day for him quickly changes when his father gets pulled over by police. The book, geared in youth advocacy and social justice, explains the complex situation behind police-involved incidents like Floyd's or Eric Garner's deaths with empathy and in a way youth can understand.

With the guidance of a friend, the book was published and the rest was history. Everything came together fast for the first book and now Washington is onto a second book - with a different topic highlighted.

“A Special Little Girl” sheds light on autism awareness. And much like the first book, the second one comes with personal experience - specifically his 10-year-old niece, who was diagnosed with autism at the age of four.

Washington started to talk about his niece, and his smile grew and eyes lit up. But the complete opposite happened as the story continued on. He talked about going home this past summer to Gainesville, Florida, where his sister and niece live, and attending the young girl's gymnastics class.

"At the end of the class, I observed the instructor award every student with an award except my niece," Washington said. "My niece, of course, may have needed some additional support, but she was able to get through every challenge that was presented to her and do it well, honestly. And I'm not just saying that because I'm her uncle. And so that absolutely rubbed me the wrong way."

And it didn't only rub him the wrong way. His niece also showed signs she felt the same way. Washington said that she is verbal, but sometimes has a hard time articulating her emotions.

"So the way that she oftentimes communicates with us is through cartoons or videos, what have you. And so she began to replay this cartoon over and over and over again. And the cartoon essentially talked about how bad it feels to be left out," Washington said as he let out a sigh. "And honestly... that broke my heart. It broke my heart."

After that experience, Washington spent time researching organizations that focus on autism, but more specifically, that focus on working with children of color to help get the supportive services his niece needs. But in that moment there was something more important he wanted to do - affirm his niece and let her know that he doesn't care what anyone else says. 

"Your family loves you, your family supports you, we understand you, and we embrace you for who you are and for the differences that you bring," Washington said. "And so I wrote my book, 'A Special Little Girl,' really to my niece, but really to all children that learn a little differently and are on the spectrum." 

More than just affirming his niece, many others will also benefit from the book. A portion of the proceeds from “A Special Little Girl” will go towards autism research and providing resources for children diagnosed within communities of color.

Washington also founded Friends of Zyion, a 501(c)(3), to focus on conducting research and providing resources to children of color and their families, along with caretakers, that have been diagnosed with autism or other neurodivergent disorders. 

Throughout his writing journey, Washington continues to work to advocate for others through books, that may or may not wear capes, in more ways than one. He also has 'storytime' on his YouTube page where he spreads positivity to families.

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