There are pages and pages within journals containing the words that Michelle Owusu-Hemeng needed to hear. But she never realized so many other children like her needed to hear those words too.
Michelle grew up knowing the value of giving back. Her mother poured into her the idea that there were always ways to give, to encourage and to share her joy with others.
“I love giving back and I love helping kids,” she said. “I started looking online for ways to plug in and found the Buckner Family Hope Center at Wynnewood and loved what they offered for the kids.”
An English teacher by day, she would come after school to help lead the children through math and grammar activities on the iPads and computers.
“Whenever Michelle would enter the building, everyone knew she had arrived,” shared Cheryl Williams, Buckner Family Hope Center director at Wynnewood. “Her unique laugh, big smile and joyful presence always lit up the room. Although the kids might experience frustration at times, she would always encourage them and continue seeking another way to make reading come alive for them.”
Each week, Michelle would show up sporting her big smile and encourage the kids at the Family Hope Center with the words she held close to her heart too. One day, her mother told her those words needed to be shared with kids all over.
“Originally, I said no to writing a book. I journal just to write it out, but my mom said someone needs to hear your story. Someone needs to see this in pictures,” she said.
She put the words to paper and found a friend who was also an illustrator. Without any prompting, her vision came to life through his drawings in her first book, “Who I am." Each picture beautifully complements the words alongside Akosua and her journey.
It was also important to her that the books were inclusive. Teaching special education, mentoring at-risk kids, and working with all demographics, Michelle wanted to be sure children who read this book were able to find someone like them on the pages.
“The illustrator took the time to even show the texture of the little girl’s hair and brought to life words I couldn’t even write,” Michelle said.
At just 30 years old, Michelle is now a best-selling author on the New York Times Children’s Picture Books list, three times over. Her second book, “Who We Are,” features the same little girl, Akosua, with a little boy addressing common stereotypes one page at a time. And in the spirit of 2020, Michelle wrote “Akosua’s Quarantine,” to help teach children what a pandemic and the new normal looks like for them.
Her three books are letters to kids to remind them of their beauty and worth, regardless of what they see.
“There are so many insecurities going around with kids – even in elementary ages. I want them to know that every part of them is beautiful,” Michelle said. “Spending time with these kids helps me too. They need someone – but they don’t know how much they help me too.” They motivate me to do everything I want to do.”