Dr. Carlotta Penn is Senior Director of Partnerships and Engagement for the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Global Engagement in the College of Education and Human Ecology at The Ohio State University. She holds a PhD in Education and an MA in Comparative Studies from The Ohio State University, a BA in Mass Communication from Wright State University, and spent several years as an English language educator in local and global contexts. Her research interests include Black women educators, language and literacy, and multicultural education.
Carlotta is also a children’s book author and the founder of Daydreamers Press, an independent publishing company based in Columbus that curates books, media, and related programming, especially for children, that explore the legacy of Black storytelling, art, and advocacy. Her works include Dream A Rainbow, The Turtle With An Afro, The Turtle With an Afro: A Star is Born!, Bright Boy ABCs, and Race, Justice, and Activism in Literacy Instruction.
This fall, Ohio Humanities and Daydreamers Press will publish a children’s book that tells the story of a group of Black mothers and children who marched for school integration in the southwest Ohio town of Hillsboro in the 1950s in response to the city school board’s refusal to integrate after Brown v. Board of Education. Many of the children who marched are still alive today and often speak about their mothers’ activism and of Ohio’s role in the civil rights movement.
This week, we spoke to Carlotta about her work and the forthcoming children’s book.
“The Lincoln School story is ultimately one about perseverance and victory in the face of a big challenge. The struggle for justice is paramount, but we can also think about the struggle to make any dream come true.“Dr. Carlotta Penn
What is the origin story of Daydreamers Press?
I spent several hours a week either reading or writing from the time I was in elementary school, and I had my first poem published in a magazine at that time, too. I believe that early passion laid the foundation for Daydreamers Press. As a young adult, I continued writing creatively and academically, and I worked in education and the arts. Then, in 2017, I independently published a picture book in dedication to my first child, Jember Dove. Jember is a Rainbow Baby—a child born after a mother experiences pregnancy loss, and writing a book for her was a therapeutic practice during my pregnancy and postpartum. The experience of writing, art directing, and publishing that book was so fulfilling, I wanted to do it again and again. So, I brought my life-long writing practice and my background in education and multicultural engagement in alignment, establishing Daydreamers Press.
What about the Lincoln School story makes it a good topic for a children’s book?
Children are inspired by the experiences of other children, and kids listen to kids. Just ask YouTube! The Lincoln School story combines a few elements that make it a story children should know and one that will pique their interest. First, it is centered on the actions of children doing something that most young people do daily—traveling to school. Second, the young marchers listened to, were protected by, and loved their mothers. The mothers faced hostility and uncertainty to speak up and act for their children. This is another shared experience among millions of little ones. And finally, the Lincoln School story is ultimately one about perseverance and victory in the face of a big challenge. The struggle for justice is paramount, but we can also think about the struggle to make any dream come true. Kids will soon learn that for any goal to materialize, you must go forward even when you may not want to—or when others don’t think you should.
How does your background as a scholar of multicultural education influence your work at Ohio State?
The field of multicultural education is historically rooted in the Black American struggle for liberation and for equity and access in the public sphere. My background helps me to keep the goal of freedom and equality as a guidepost in all I do. I work in an office centered on equity within and engagement among our college, local, and global communities. So, in the programs I support, I’m always thinking, how do we make sure that the variety of people in the community are served by this initiative? How can we do a better job next time to capture the particular perspective, need, or group that may often be overlooked?
How have the humanities impacted your life?
I’ve been interested in cultural diversity, the expansiveness of the world, the greatness of God, and the arts for as long as I can remember. I simply can’t imagine a life without stories and song, visual arts, food, flowers, and fashion, and love poems. All of those things in the diverse cultural and historical varieties are splendid and inspiring.