Dorena Williamson with two of her books “Crowned with Glory” and “I Know Who I Am” at Landmark Booksellers in Franklin, TN.

By Austin Newell

NASHVILLE, TN — Dorena Williamson has made a name for herself in recent years as an acclaimed children’s book author, penning books such as “The Story of Juneteenth” and her most recent and 8th book, “I Know Who I Am,” which was released earlier last month. 

What is unique about Williamson’s books is the extent to which they focus on race. It’s this subject matter that drew her into writing in the first place, specifically after the death of figures like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, which highlighted for many the extent of racial injustice in the United States.

“In the faith community, as I saw white Christians say things like, ‘We teach our kids not to see color’ and ‘I want my kids to be colorblind,’ and I felt like we are just always lagging behind and we are not having the conversations with our kids. And colorblindness is not helpful, and because we are people of the Christian faith, specifically because that’s what I hold, I feel like we kind of totally miss God’s part in that, that he made our beautiful diversity and it’s something we should celebrate and not keep our kids in the dark about.”

But it was also a case of seeing what companies like Mattel were doing with their products, increasing the amount of diversity showcased in their merchandise. All these things added together to let her know the time was right to make a positive impact.

What Williamson didn’t know is just what she would be doing to address these issues. At first, she thought about writing a blog. But as time went on she felt herself feel more and more pulled towards writing books for children. 

“I started writing the things that were frustrating me and some ideas, and I just started seeing the formation of what would become my first book,” she said.

For Williamson, this trajectory is not something she had ever anticipated. In college, she received a degree in psychology, and later went on to become a faith leader at her local church. If you had asked her, “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?” a decade ago, the title of published author would not be at the top of her list. For her, the journey came with quite a bit of self-doubt.

“I had to go through that personal journey quietly of really gathering what I felt was my worth in terms of speaking into these subjects that I was passionate about,” she recalled. “And so I’m glad I did the hard work, and I’m glad I didn’t limit myself by comparison or by just feeling my story didn’t matter or that my voice wasn’t one worth listening to.”

Williamson has seen firsthand the way her stories have helped children when she visited a school in Nashville to read her newest book to students. The book itself features a child from a different country on each page. Williamson read the book and asked the students to guess the country each child was from.

“It was so delightful to have these third graders guessing, to talk about different countries across the globe, then I took a picture because there were several children who were Egyptian and that was one of the countries represented. So I held the Egyptian spread open and they were doing hearts and thumbs up. They felt the delight of knowing that their representation matters,” she said. “I want a generation of kids and families to know that they are amazing. And I hope that every one of those kids left going, ‘I am awesome, my culture is awesome, and so is Egyptian culture, Mexican and Spanish and Romanian’ and on and on and on … [T]hat they have a curiosity that says, ‘Let me learn about those differences instead of denying them or assigning a negativity to them.’”