“Ignorance is not bliss. It’s deadly!”
These were the words of my favorite teacher — Shirley Owens Prince. The rising movement to ban library books calls her to mind. She was a fiery Black woman with a booming voice. On Tuesday nights in a North Memphis church, she taught a weekly Bible study. As she struggled with failing health, our teacher was determined to disrupt our ignorance with books.

In one breath she spoke about Jesus. In the next breath, she encouraged students to read thought-provoking titles like Dostoevsky’s “Brothers Karamazov,” Howard Thurman’s “Meditations of the Heart,” and Margaret Walker’s “Jubilee.” Her book list challenged us to tackle literature we never read in school.


Our teacher’s knowledge about history and current events inspired many students to set new academic goals. Some full-time workers in the class applied for college under her guidance and some of us pursued graduate studies.

Probing class conversations also helped us form new opinions and rituals. I remember some students were not registered voters. But that changed one night after the teacher led us in a passionate discussion on Reconstruction, Barack Obama and the possibility that America could elect its first Black president.

Five months before Obama officially announced his run for president in 2007, my favorite teacher died. It was a sad occasion. However, those Tuesday night book lists had accomplished a mighty work. The texts helped to transform our thinking and movement in the world. I was wiser after my introduction to Howard Thurman, the Black mystic who said, “Follow the grain in your own wood.” 

Following my own path and purpose has been teaching school and writing books for young learners. Mostly, I write historical picture books about Black activists and barrier breakers from forgotten moments in American History. 

Why do I write history books for children? With organized book bans on the rise, I want to disrupt ignorance like my favorite teacher. Without an understanding of history, children cannot make informed opinions about what they feel and how they will live in the world.

Also, if writers don’t record the tragic and triumphant moments of American history, children will be ignorant of the truth. When history is censored, propagandists are emboldened to deny such reprehensible events like the Holocaust and the institution of American slavery.

I have given much thought to the growing book ban movement. Diverse cultures and the harsh reality of American history make some politicians and parent groups uncomfortable. As a result, they have moved to challenge books, while also gutting literacy and critical thinking skills. As these nefarious plans advance, let us prepare for the devastation.

To censor and ban library books from growing minds is analogous to withholding sustenance from a newborn. You stunt a child’s mental growth. Intellectual malnourishment and deformity will be sure.

The words of my charismatic teacher still ring true. Ignorance is not bliss. It’s deadly! Those who teach school or work with children, see the damage. There are children who bully peers that do not look, speak or dress like them.


Misguided and unenlightened students in extreme cases will go a step further to inflict violence on children outside their own culture, race or beliefs. The result of bullying and violence is trauma. There is the looming possibility that the victims of bullying will grow up to harm themselves or hurt others. 

And what can be said of the twisted young bully? Without the intervention of inspiring books, vigilant teachers, and perhaps counseling, there is a possibility that their uninformed opinions will harden. The calcified casts can leave all of us to suffer the repercussions of misguided children who grow into adults, who bully, embrace intolerance and rally against intellectual freedom.

It is my opinion that uncensored books promoting truth, justice and equality, can transform the thinking of the misguided, if they encounter such a diet of books when they are young and growing.

As a writer and public educator with 30 years of service, I am duty-bound to dispense knowledge because ignorance hinders democracy. Ignorance hurts the masses. And to raise young scholars who will be tomorrow’s critical thinkers, freedom workers, and educated voters, students need access to uncensored libraries and history books that do not color the facts.

In the shouting words of my preaching teacher, Shirley Owens Prince, “Make it plain! Make it plain!” In my pursuit of words and writing — that is what I aim to do.