In addition to leading a special education classroom in the Washington, DC, area, BU Wheelock alumna Keena Anthony (’13) is the co-author (with Shamfa Tittle) of the recently-published children’s book I’m an American Too! Ms. Anthony spoke with us about the experiences, past and present, that inspired her to create the book.
Born in Brooklyn to parents from Guyana and raised in Queens, Ms. Anthony discovered her calling as a high school sophomore by volunteering for a recreational program for children with Autism. She stayed involved with this program throughout high school, working alongside in-service and pre-service speech therapists and special educators.
Connecting with these practitioners and students fueled her interest in special education and contributed to her choice to study Speech Therapy as an undergraduate at the State University of New York in Geneseo. After graduating in2013, Anthony returned to Queens and worked as a teacher’s assistant in a classroom for children with Autism.
Her next step as an educator brought her to BU Wheelock, where she pursued her Master’s in Special Education, and chose to specialize in teaching children with severe disabilities. She then took a job working as a special educator in Arlington, VA, which, as a Title 1 school district, gave her an opportunity to support students from diverse social and economic backgrounds.
Anthony met her co-author Shamfa Tittle as an undergrad at SUNY Geneseo. They’d been inspired by a shared observation about the books that they’d been reading to their students. “We talked about how hard it is to find books to find books on diversity and if they are about diversity, they always relate to a holiday or an event” says Anthony.
That conversation quickly turned into inspiration for a new project. “We wanted a book you could read any time of the year to teach this message and we didn’t want to wait until Black History Month or Women’s History Month or Chinese New Year– so we decided to come up with our own book and use our own experiences to create this story,” says Anthony.
Tittle, who is a middle school English teacher, also shared in Anthony’s belief that inclusive literature for students was increasingly important in the current political climate. “No matter what your political beliefs are, a book like this is very important. It’s very clear to see that a lot of issues regarding culture, ethnicity, and race are part of the public conversation we’re having across the country,” notes Anthony. “This is a book that celebrates and acknowledges everyone’s differences, but still reminds everyone that at the end of the day, we are still American and that’s what makes America America – it’s that we have all these different cultures and backgrounds.”
“For example,” continues Anthony, “I remembered being teased for the lunch I would bring to school growing up. Everyone was bringing Lunchables and I was bringing roti, my home culture,
my home bread. So in the book we have a page that says my lunch may look different from yours’ but I’m an American too.”
When asked about writing projects on the horizon, Anthony envisions a sequel, “I Belong, Too,” that draws upon her work as a special educator and centers on experiences that students with disabilities may encounter.
As for what Anthony herself is reading, she cites I am Enough by Grace Beyers as one of her favorite books because it focuses on young girls of color. “I like how the book stresses being you is enough” Anthony says.
To purchase your own copy of I’m an American Too! click here.