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Letters About Literature National Winners 2015

National Winner, Level 1 Honor: Chelsea Brown

Dear Sandra L. Pinkney,

The first time I opened your book, “Shades of Black”, was about six years ago. But not once in those six years did I really take the time to think about the book’s message. I was young and didn’t understand the book’s true meaning until several years later, and it never even crossed my mind that this book would become a great help at my new school.

In 2011, my family moved from Massachusetts to Mechanicsville, Virginia. Everything at my new school was normal. I had a teacher who occasionally yelled and sometimes gave hugs. I was feeling great until the middle of the year when we started learning about the Civil War. As you probably know, one of the big issues that led to the Civil War was a fight against slavery. This was the first time we were learning about slavery in school. I was one out of three brown-skinned kids in my class, and when my teacher said, “Black people were owned and traded as slaves,” everyone else turned to llok at us. I was very embarrassed and, at that moment, I wished I did not have brown skin. I wanted to be the same complexion as most of the other students. Brown was the color of dirt and mud; I thought it was bad to be black.

One night I was sitting in my room mourning over the incident in class. When I’m sad, I normally read, so I grabbed the book, Shades of Black, from my bookshelf. I read the first page: “I am black. I am unique.” For the first time, I really thought about this sentence. It was true that I was one of a few African Americans at my school. So, technically that made me unique. I felt a little better, but I wasn’t 100%. I continued to the second page: “I am the creamy white frost of vanilla ice cream.” I was surprised because I thought that no black people could have such light skin. I continued: “I am the gingery brown in a cookie.” I said, “Hey, that’s my color skin.” I knew people had my type of skin, but the girl on the page looked just like me. I felt really good after finishing the book.
Sometimes it makes you think that just because someone has different color skin, speaks a different language, or is from a different country, that doesn’t mean that they are better or worse than someone else. We all come in different sizes, shapes, and colors. We have different backgrounds and different experiences. In my opinion, diversity is a good thing.

I am now nine years old, and I ignore the stares when the words “African American” or “slave” come up during school. We still learn about things like slavery, but do I get embarrassed or feel bad about myself? Not at all. “I am black. I am unique.” I am proud to be me.

Chelsea Brown