Township schools cite authors for contributions to Black History Month

Two writers reflect on experiences that shaped their work

In honor of Black History Month, Cherry Hill schools are spotlighting two Black authors in the district: Marlton resident and school psychologist Francesca Aldrich and Camden resident and special-education student teacher Shamia Wilcox. 

Marlton resident Francesca Aldrich is a school psychologist at Stockton Elementary School and author of the young adult fiction book “Bent, Not Broken,” which she hopes will spark conversations on and awareness of mental health. (Special to The Sun/The Sun)
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Aldrich’s 2018 book, “Bent, Not Broken,” is a young-adult novel about a Hispanic girl named Charlotte and her experience adjusting to a mental-health facility after an unsuccessful suicide attempt. 

“I wanted to create a book that made people more aware of (mental health) and opened that conversation, so people would know that mental health is not something we need to shy away from,” the author said.

“It’s actually something we should talk about more.” 

Having deep conversations about topics like race or mental illness can be difficult, but Aldrich emphasized listening to listen instead of listening to give advice or trying to fix a problem.

Wilcox wrote “CeCe Learns the School Rules” during the pandemic as a resource to help with social and emotional skills and classroom management. Her book was inspired by her experiences in class and her niece Malaysia who wished her dark skin were lighter like her sister’s.

Shamia Wilcox is a Special Education Student Teacher at Cooper Elementary School as well as the author of “CeCe Learns the School Rules.” Inspired by her niece Malaysia and her experiences with classroom management, Wilcox hopes the book will be a resource for teachers who want to share social and emotional skills. (Special to The Sun/The Sun)

“I knew when I wrote the book that I wanted to showcase (Malaysia) as the main character, because I wanted her to feel proud of her skin,” Wilcox explained. “I wanted her to have a resource she could use in the classroom, something where she could say, ‘Okay, this is me; this is my skin and I should be proud of it.’”

While both books are fictional, Wilcox reflected on the significance that titles like hers and Aldrich’s have in history. For a long time, many Black people weren’t able to read or write or even go to school.

“This is something you should be proud of, because not only do you have a book that showcases Black and brown students on the front cover, but you also have an author who is African American,” Wilcox noted.

She also acknowledged that a representation is not always “good,” but that the truth should be shared. 

“It’s part of history, and we have to see where we started to see where we are now,” Wilcox said. “To see how we can change more and how we can be a part of the change.”

Aldrich recalled that when she started working at Stockton Elementary School, she gave a list of diverse books to the principal, James Riordan, who ordered every one   and has continued to find diverse books for the classroom and school libraries.

“As a young Black girl growing up, I didn’t really see myself represented very much,” Aldrich acknowledged. “But now, I feel like I’m finally seeing it, and I feel so excited for young girls today.”

Cherry Hill public schools offer resources for talking about race on the district website at https://www.chclc.org/site/Default.aspx?PageID=1878.

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