Tiana Akoh-Arrey is a truly remarkable 9-year-old. Like one in five children in the U.S, she was bullied, often ridiculed for her hair texture. Turning a negative experience into a triumph, she decided to turn to her love of writing to put her story on paper.
“One day at school, a kid made fun of my Afro and said that it made me look like a lion,” Tiana recounts. “That made me really sad, so I asked my mom to straighten my hair to look like my other friends who did not have an Afro. She explained to me that I should learn to be proud and accept my hair as it is because it's beautiful. I was trying my hand at writing short stories, so I decided to write about my hair.”
The talented author has enjoyed reading and writing since she was very young. At just four-years old, she began writing full sentences. She was only six when she decided to write about her hair. The resulting story was an inspirational tale championing diversity, love and inclusion.
Tiana’s mother, Dorothy, was so moved by her daughter's literary work, that she submitted it to Conscious Dreams Publishing, who in turn, made Tiana a published author, at the age of seven.
“My Afro: Twin Best Friends is about my experience with my thick, coarse Afro hair while my best friend has silky, straight hair, but we want to look alike for picture day,” explains Tiana. “The story follows my journey as I explore friendship, self-acceptance and identity. Through this, readers can learn how to embrace who they are and celebrate differences in others.”
By providing characters and a scenario many young Black girls can relate to, Tiana hopes to foster a feeling of acceptance and inclusion in them as well as an appreciation for the value of their own experiences and viewpoints.
“Children get self-assurance and a chance for self-reflection and validation when they see characters who look like themselves," explains the 9 year-old author. "As an added bonus, seeing themselves reflected in these characters might help kids see a world free of prejudice and discrimination.”
Tiana’s message is clear: that there must be better Black representation and more identity-affirming characters in children’s literature to help kids learn to love themselves and each other, no matter what they look like. At the end of the book, she includes a poem summarizing her message:
We look different. We feel different. We come from different parts of the world. What makes us unique is our difference. Let’s embrace it.
In addition to her book landing on Amazon’s bestsellers list and surpassing sales benchmarks for a first-time published author, Tiana has been highlighted as one of The Week Junior’s “Heroes of the Year” for 2022.
My Afro: Twin Best Friends has won the hearts of many, especially little girls from all over the world, who have shared photos of themselves with Tiana’s book, along with messages of feeling empowered. Even Tiana’s bully was inspired by the book and wrote her an apology letter.
“I am really proud of myself, and it has confirmed the assurance my mom gave me that bullying is never about me but the bully trying to express their dissatisfaction in seeing someone different and trying to make others feel small,” the young author shares. “I am happy I have managed to not feel small but also helped other girls have the courage of wearing their Afro hair in all shapes and styles without feeling embarrassed about their hair or caring what people say. I feel like I have been empowered and also empowered others.”
Grateful for her mother’s constant support and positive affirmations, Tiana stresses the importance of parents uplifting their Black children who are being bullied about their appearance.
“Promote body acceptance and positive self-talk. Instruct young African girls how to be safe online and deal with cyberbullying relating to their looks, including banning and reporting offenders and avoiding any contact with them," she says. "It is important to encourage young women to participate in activities that will help them feel good about themselves and their bodies.”