If you haven’t heard of Stephaine Courtney yet, you soon will. Her recent work with the NAACP, the YWCA, local school districts, her own organization the Learning Project Network, and now as an author and publisher, highlights her growing influence as both activist and creative. Her newly printed book, Our Community: Black Leaders in Spokane, is available at local bookstores and is being catalogued for our library shelves. Our Community highlights more than forty local Black leaders and the organizations and businesses they represent. It’s arranged in picture book format—awesome for children and classrooms—and was created, as the back of the book states, “to help families learn about the African American community in Spokane.”
“Representation is important,” Stephaine writes, “and I wanted to remind all children that they can be anything they want in life.”
Featuring water-color-esque enhanced photographs of artists, politicians, engineers, electricians, coaches, photographers, attorneys, and more—including Kiantha Duncan, Shantell Jackson, and beloved change-maker Sandy Williams—the book introduces children to inspiring people and rewarding careers.
I caught up with Stephaine over the phone late one Friday afternoon to chat with her about Our Community’s origins and the importance of forming Black spaces within Spokane.
I’ve been so impressed with the scope of your activism. Can you talk about the Learning Project and how it led to book publishing?
The Learning Project started off to provide training for Washington State educators. The training, we soon realized, was too cookie-cutter for what we were seeing in our communities, so we moved into social justice and project-based learning. I started creating trainings based on what these educators were directly seeing and experiencing. One of our focuses was on maternal health. At the time I was struggling with infertility, and there were educators within my center that were seeing and going through the same thing: miscarriages and post-partum depression. I was connecting all of these dots, beginning to understand that early childhood education was focused on too small of a portion of the map.
I decided to highlight different spaces within early childhood education that pertained to maternal health. I wanted to create resources for this issue. We talked a lot about identity, about not seeing yourself represented, and about how this was leading to depression, colorism, tokenism, and more. I began to think of projects to give us more spaces.
What prompted you to publish Our Community?
One day, one of the teachers told me that she didn’t know any Black people. Spokane can be really difficult for Black people finding space. I wanted to highlight Black leaders within Spokane, to let teachers dive into more of this space where Black people are seen and see one another. When we don’t know one another, we don’t know how to connect. With this book, we’re showing these spaces and we’re creating solutions through a visible document that can’t be erased, that people can use to really connect with Black individuals here. Parents have bought the book and are educating themselves about people and our organizations in the community. There’s a resource list at the back of the book.
Our Community is really near and dear to my heart. I want to continue this work, to connect with and make visible the most phenomenal people I know.
What was the toughest part of book creation for you?
The printing itself was so difficult—you want to make it affordable, but you also want to make it quality.
What impact are you seeing Our Community have on the people both involved with the book and the people reading the book?
I think the moment that was revealing was when I got the printed book and I took it to a friend. Their child opened the book and called out, “Mom! You’re in this book!”
I teared up. You could tell this experience made the child see their parent in a different way. The kid was like, “Oh my gosh, are you famous?”
Books do something that nothing else can do—they document a time and place and create a bridge for readers. It’s amazing to see people read the book when they are also in it. It made me realize how important we are to one another.
The historical documentation for Black people in Spokane is zero. Non-existent. The only books we have are African Americans in Spokane and Black Spokane.
I wanted to contribute a book so our work in Spokane can’t be erased or forgotten.
What are your future book projects?
One of them is focused within different spaces and businesses within the Spokane Black community, with kids in the book visiting all of these places. I’m also working on a maternal health children’s book, Mama’s Getting a Doula, educating children and families about maternal health and how to both support and seek support during a big transition.
CHECK OUT OUR COMMUNITY: BLACK LEADERS IN SPOKANE
African Americans in Spokane by Jerrelene Williamson
Black Spokane by Dwayne A. Mack