Local Children's Book Illustrator Jessixa Bagley Issues a Call to Action
Jessixa Bagley, with husband Aaron and their son, creating in their illustration studio.
PHOTO: JOSHUA HUSTON
The morning after America elected as president a man who campaigned by openly mocking a handicapped reporter, called for a travel ban on members of a religion, made a comment about a distinguished judge that the head of his own party called “the textbook definition of a racist comment,” and asked black voters such as me “what do you have to lose?” my head was lost in a sea of sadness, sickness and confusion. Then 7 am rolled around and I heard the sweet morning ramblings of my son, Baxter, who had just turned 2. To him, he was waking to another morning of the familiar and comfortable that makes him feel safe in the world. To me, it was a cold glass of water in the face. No matter how I was feeling, I needed to carry on for my son.
I have to show my son -— not just tell him — that everything is going to be OK. I don’t know if everything will be OK, but I do know that for every one thing I do that supports or fights for our rights and the rights of others, I’m making things that much better.
As a writer and illustrator of picture books, I am in a unique position to connect with many kids, not just my own. I have always had a desire to make work that makes children feel safe and not alone. Now that desire feels more like a responsibility.
I am making work that I hope kids will love, cherish and learn from as they grow into adults. I am in a position to shape and mold how a child will look at the world. If I promote compassion and good in my books, then that’s one more example guiding them to have compassion and to be good.
I realize what a privilege it is to touch the lives of children, and now I know I need to make as much work as I can that not only entertains, but inspires all of them to be the kind of people we need in this world: caring, compassionate, empathetic, smart, hardworking and understanding beings. These, to me, are qualities that foster the evolution of humanity, and could ultimately help save us from being so destructive to ourselves and to our world.
The lessons of life begin with us — moms, dads, authors, artists, voters.
Since the election, every day I’ve started to ask myself, “What can I do today?” It might be donating my time or money, smiling more to strangers, questioning my own biases, learning about what is going on in the world and trying to understand more ways to be a part of it, instead of just being a tourist. I’m trying to figure out how to be an example for my son so he can be an example to others. For him, the world did not come to an end, and now I have to prove that to him and to myself.
This year I’m participating in a mentorship program run by We Need Diverse Books, an organization of book makers and book lovers who want to expand diversity of characters in children’s literature and to get those books in front of all kids. This means a lot to me, because I have the chance to be a role model as a woman of color breaking through the racial trends that have traditionally existed in children’s publishing.
It’s even more important now after the election. The prejudices that are being promoted by the President-elect and his supporters are fueling a new revolution, one that could begin to breathe new life into a mindset where diversity is no longer accepted in this country. I need to be part of the conversation and movement forward of increasing inclusivity and respect for diversity.
I’ve never had a call to action like this in my personal life or career. Now is our time to make our voices heard, to rise up against the things that go against everything we hope to stand for. Not just for ourselves, but for the future of all of our kids.
Jessixa Bagley is the author of several children’s books, including Boats for Papa. Her next book, Laundry Day (Roaring Brook Press) is available in February.