Ten Minutes With Ty Allan Jackson
The supadupa Man
Ty Allan Jackson is adamant: He’s not a writer. Yet the Bronx native and father of three left the corporate sales world in 2010 to launch his own publishing company in Pittsfield, Big Head Books, with four titles under its belt—three of which Jackson penned himself. Another is on the way, and all carry the company’s positive, and vibrantly illustrated, message of achievement and self-worth. With a weakness for good food (“My Kryptonite”) and a belief in the power of literacy, he says it’s time “to get bookin’.”
Did you always have dreams of being a writer? Absolutely not. We are a “children’s motivation company.” We motivate and inspire kids, and one of the tools we happen to use is books. If you’re talking about a path to prosperity in this country, literacy has to be the foundation.
Your first book, Danny Dollar, was inspired by your son opening a lemonade stand. What else is behind that publication? Being a kid from the Bronx, I didn’t have the first idea about this lemonade-stand thing. But when he made $50 off it and then asked me what he should do with the money, I went to Barnes & Noble looking for financial-literacy books for kids. I could count on one hand how many books there were featuring children of color. And there was this display table with coming-of-age-stories. Really sweet stories. There was only one book with a child of color on that table.
What was it? Monster by Walter Dean Myers! That moment changed my life. I went to my car and just sat there in the parking lot for about an hour taking notes, writing down ideas.
You do a lot of work with your books in public schools all over the country. What’s one of the most memorable you’ve visited? The Success Preparatory School in New Orleans. It was a ’hood school for sure, but every morning the grades would meet, and they would have a pep rally and do “shout outs” to kids who did something good. The teacher would look them straight in the eye and give them the positive affirmation, while everybody clapped in a rhythm. It was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.
Tell me about the work you do in the prison system. The FULL program is my partner Eddie Taylor’s baby from start to finish. It means Families United through the Love of Literacy, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to do: Teach participants—we always say participants, never ever inmates, ever—how vital it is to the welfare of their children to enjoy reading. We teach them about the importance of literacy in the role of parenthood. Because they are still parents and they still love their kids and they want better for the kids and for themselves. Two-thirds of kids who can’t read proficiently by the end of fourth grade will end up on welfare or in jail. We are trying to sever the cycle of incarceration.
Is it working? Absolutely. Fathers and mothers can record a video of themselves reading a book, and their kids at home can play the tape every night as a bedtime story from Mommy or Daddy. We’ve had 300 participants come through. Of those, only six percent have returned, compared to a 60-percent recidivism rate for the state. How do you connect with FULL participants? I tell them my story. Really, I’m just another s--- kid from the Bronx who lived in the projects. My mother raised me and my brother, she had three or four jobs. I had an incarcerated father. This may sound totally cliché, but I had my mother, and she gave us so much love. And the opportunity for redemption. That gives hope to guys who don’t know any differently. I have no college degree, but I never stopped believing in myself. At 40 years old, I had 150 rejections for Danny Dollar, so I just published it myself and started a new career.
Besides your mom, do you have a hero? I’m a superhero junkie. I love comic books. And, of course, Malcolm X, who was and still is a huge influence on me. But you know who my real hero is? Howard Stern. He’s been told, “No, you can’t” so many times, but he stuck to his convictions. He’s steadfast in what he does.
What’s it like to be a black man in a small American community, especially now? The media has done a great job of creating an us-versus-them culture. But I think it is a great opportunity for the leaders in the black community to show our resolve and what it is to be black. When you are black in America, especially a black man, you are an ambassador to our culture. And it is essential that you project what a black man is: strong, proud, intelligent, and capable.There are many times, whether I’m at a restaurant or public function, that I am the only or one of the few black people in the room. I am sometimes stared at, looked down upon, or spoken to condescendingly. This is great because it gives me the opportunity to dismantle the stereotype of how the media portrays black men and have an intelligent conversation. As far as the tension that is so prominent, it is time that we all take a good look not at each other but within ourselves. Why do we feel this way towards one another? We’re so much more alike than different.