Awakened Convos: Anna Nyakana Chats on Children Literacy, Representation for Youth of Color
Anna Nyakana is an Award-Winning and Bestselling Author, Motivational Speaker, and Business Owner of Niyah Zuri Books and Niyah Zuri Studios. Anna was born in Berlin, Germany in 1986 to a Ugandan father and German-Moldavian mother. Her family immigrated to the United States in the early 90’s, settling in Stamford, Connecticut. Anna pursued her writing and musical passions beginning at the age of 6 and spent her teenage years honing her skills of songwriting and live performance until releasing her debut album in 2007.
Anna Nyakana proceeded to attain her Bachelor’s degree in Business in 2011 and soon after extended her writing talents into her first literary work, “The Student Survival Guide to Online College.” She was able to guide thousands of students during their journey of attaining higher education through an online platform through this quick guide but yearned to help a different demographic close to her heart: children.
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Anna where she chatted more on children literacy and there being proper representation for our youth of color.
Check out the interview above or below.
H.O.R.: Hey guys, this is House of Ramirez, you already know. We are out here doing it big, and we are noticing all of the successful entrepreneurs that are out here with us, and with me today, I have Anna Nyakana. Anna, please introduce yourself, but first let me thank you for being on House on Ramirez…thank you.
Anna: Absolutely and thank you so much for inviting me, and for creating such an amazing platform where you are focusing on us, those of us of color and of culture that are doing the work, day in and day out to progress.
My name is Anna Nyakana, I am an author, motivational speaker, entrepreneur of Niyah Zuri books, Niyah Zuri Studios, and fundamentally, Niyah Zuri world and everything that is coming across and around the world today.
H.O.R.: I checked out your website, and it is so beautiful and there is so much more to that beautiful website that you have. You are empowering our children, and it is very important that we see the proper representation, as well as the educational backend to just the representation itself. There is so much more that you are offering our children, and it is encouraging because our children need it.
For a long time we went without representation, whether it was in textbooks or in movies, and I saw that you were focused on that, and you understand, can you tell me more about that?
Anna: Absolutely and thank you for the feedback and for pouring into me in encouragement, I am happy that you loved the website. I actually developed it myself under Niyah Zuri Studios. I am a woman that wears many hats, so I am just grateful that you felt a connection to it, and all of the content that is being represented there. So, as you mentioned yes, I was very intentional about creating the series, the first book (she displays for us), ‘Niyah Zuri and the Pharaoh’s Throne’ and it was all because growing up in the states, I am originally from Berlin, Germany. My mother is Maldivian Germ, and my father is East African from an amazing country called, Uganda…stand up Uganda!
I could not find my place here in this American society, and being English as a second learner, I was encouraged to take books home and practice my English, but sis, there were no books. There are no books of anyone on the cover that looked like me, there was always an animal, or a boy, or if there was a girl, she was in the background, and she was a princess, or a damsel in distress. There were no strong- minded girls that we leaders, that were heroines, and that was something that always stuck with me because my school was not in the best part of town, so we had very low resources, and we also did not have anybody motivating us.
So, I took all of these critical things and experiences from my childhood, and I decided to change the narrative, it was not okay for me to be able to go to school, and there were no books that had any sort of representation. Instead of complaining about it, hoping, wishing, praying that one day there would be a change where my children would grow up, and not only be able to see the books in their schools, and in their libraries, or even in the bookstore but to actually see it taught in the curriculum, and that has been my number one focus, literally, knocking down the doors of these schools to ensure that our culture, and all world cultures are being represented, and are being taught with accuracy, without indoctrination, and with glorification of our richness, and our history, and of our contributions to this world, 365…not in a single month, not during Black History Month, not during Latin Heritage Month, but all year long because we are representative of the world, and have contributed so much, and I would not even be able to sleep at night, if I knew that I continued to progress in this world, and did not have that contribution, so that in a nutshell is where Niyah Zuri was born.
H.O.R.: Yes, and I would like to thank you for that, and I do see that you are tailoring to diversity within the classroom. It is very important, and the fact that you are so determined is encouraging, because you are doing this for all of us…you are relentless, and that is what we need. We need someone in our corner to fight for us, to fight for diversity. As you have mentioned, we have a lot to do with history, and we need that representation. We have to also think about what it means to our young people, when they grow up, they will remember your series, and they will understand and remember those books, this young lady cared enough to write books for us to be encouraged, and to move forward, making us feel like we are important.
Children are like sponges, and when you have a product that encourages them, and pushes them to be their best selves, and it also motivates them to do greater things, not to just stick to the norm, but to do greater things, that is just beautiful.
Anna: You are so encouraging, thank you for seeing the vision, and for seeing the mission. I am going to officially welcome you to the Niyah Zuri tribe, so shout out to the tribe! Thank you, and that means that you are on board with continuing the work to make the change for our youth, and to really transform this world because they are going to inherit it sis.
As you mentioned, if we do not build our young people up now to have a proper sense of self, and knowledge of self, and self-love, they are going to enter this world, thinking that they are second class citizens, and that is not the case. We have created all history, so let our history be known.
H.O.R.: Exactly, and that is what I really love. I understand that you are sharing this beautiful series in the curriculum in Connecticut, is that correct?
Anna: It has taken over Connecticut, I am now in 8 different states, Texas, Kansas, California, Louisiana, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and also in Canada, and the United Kingdom (U.K.), the series is starting to go overseas. I am thankful that the movement is starting to spark, I am finishing up the second book now, ‘Niyah Zuri and the Mayan Eclipse’ the story continues from ancient Egypt to ancient Maya, and now I am also bridging the gap to demonstrate that we have really filled this world, and how we migrated, and how our history, and traditions were carried out throughout the ages.
You can see it in the architecture, astronomy, engineering…things that were carried from Egypt, and now to Maya. Modern day Mexico City was where the main capital was at that point, many centuries ago before the Spaniards came. So, once again, it is showing us how we are all interconnected. It is not about one person’s history being more important than another’s, it is just about the recognition, and putting some respect on our names.
H.O.R.: I was looking into the book, and it is very rich in culture, it is very rich in history, and just as you mentioned, no one culture is better than the other, but you are providing a platform where everyone can be proud of where they come from. The Black and Hispanic communities have to be more proud than ever to acknowledge that there is all of this information out here, including your book that is informing us and our children that we have to be proud, we are great.
The truth is needed, especially in the classroom. When I was growing up, they were not really teaching the truth, and instead would put a spin on things. Let us take Thanksgiving for instance, I do not celebrate it, but I do respect people who do, it is an opportunity for people to come together, but I do not celebrate it and I see it for what it is. I am around family members and that is it. But that is a story that has been spun a lot of times, and we need to have books that provide accurate information. There is nothing wrong with speaking truth, and that is what we need, we need proper representation, books that are rich in culture, that tell the truth.
Anna: Yes, we need it to be historically accurate, and that we are really equipping our youth to understand that we are from the origin of all lands, in essence we have birthed this entire world, and by understanding the length of history, that once again, putting some respect on our names, and recognizing us for our contributions, that really does unite us as humans.
It is not about one culture, or one race being better than the other, but do not try to ignore that we have birthed this world, do not try to ignore all of our contributions that were the first of everything. The sciences, the mathematics, the culture, the artistry, the music…we created that, give us that respect and let it fuel us, let it empower us, and our youth. There is no reason why they should feel like they are less than, or they are not valued, their history, our history is not even being taught, it is not being glorified, and if it is, it is being so manipulated and so concentrated, especially Black/African American culture, they just talk about slavery and civil rights. That is not okay with me, we are beyond plantations. How about when we were the masters, when we were the Queens, when we were the Kings, and we were the Emperors and Empresses, and we had empires, we are the ones that created the first written language. Let us talk about that.
Anna: Linguistics, we created our language.
H.O.R.: It is just like you mentioned, it is not throwing dirt on anyone else, it is simply putting focusing on our races so that we can understand the truth. We are all coming together, like you mentioned, no matter what your background is to promote this knowledge of self. So, even if there is an Asian, or white race that is helping to encourage our youth to see this, then that makes them a part of the program too. That shows that they appreciate us and all that our ancestors have done, and that is what is needed. We need unity, we need to come together so that we can learn about our rich history.
We are so much more than that the box that they want to put us in, what they like to mention over and over again, and we have to be careful of what we continue to repeat in our minds and continue to repeat out loud. We have to understand that there was always a before that particular part in history, there was always a greatness. What about now, we are focused on this little segment of history, that is not so happy, we do not even acknowledge the greatness of our past history, so we remain stuck here in the present remembering a sad part of our past and we are unable to realize our full potential as a result.
We need to be in the now, and to be informed, and keep moving forward. We have been good at that since day one, so this is only going to reinforce the excellence within us and create for us a brighter future, I am very excited about it.
Anna: I am very excited about it too. Thank you very much for the feedback, and the conversation, and I am so encouraged to meet another sister that is committed to the cause, and the committed to truth, and committed to harmony and empathy, and understanding…that is how we progress. You said two of my favorite words, fullest potential. Another part of what I do in addition to the Niyah books, I have this set of fundamental truths called, The fundamental truths of Niyah Zuri, and these are essentially how I empower the youth. So this is the other half of what I do. One, we did not have representation, two…no one was coming to check on us to tell us that we worth anything, they were waiting for us to mess up.
There were only 3 paths that you had in the neighborhood that I grew up in, you either went to jail, there was early teen pregnancy, or you did not make it out of the “hood”, your life ended, or it was taken from you before it’s time. I refused to be a statistic, my parents worked very hard to get us out, it was not until I was 16…I was already in high school. But at the same time, I am very thankful for my childhood. I am thankful for the way that I grew up because it exposed the world to me, coming from overseas, and seeing this American culture here, and then growing up in the disparity, really in the pit of it all.
We were the castaways. I was passed on to the next grade level, and I could not even speak English. That shows that there is something broken in the system. The teachers and the administrators were so stressed out, and felt that they had no power at all, they had to make their quotas to make sure that they pass a certain amount of students every year, otherwise they would get the heat breathing down their necks. That is a broken system, we need to do better.
Teachers, and administrators should be able to have a voice, they should be able to say listen, I would like to develop more cultural books, teach cultural themes, more cultural understanding in my classroom. Look at the diversity in the classroom, why is it not being glorified, and the funny thing is that I realize that the classroom is one of the first places that a child that is not of color, comes into contact with a child of color. That is the perfect opportunity to introduce the truth. We would live in such a different world today if that was the case, 20 years ago. We would not have so much ignorance, the ignorance of the past would be washed away. No one would even listen to the grandparents, or maybe even the parents, or community elders stories, they would not lock into that because, they respect, and love the kids in their class, and they understand and accept them for who they are, and that is because they respect them, they respect their culture, and denying their culture would be denying themselves.
H.O.R.: The program actually helps everyone, so everyone is being informed, and that is the beauty of it, it is all inclusive, no one is left out…it is empowering. It is all inclusive, and that is what we need right now. Just as you mentioned, if this would have been tackled and nipped in the bud along time ago, we would not be here in this predicament. But we are talking about it now and causing the change.
Anna: Yes, we are rolling up our sleeves and we are continuing the work. I always say it, no days off we have to continue the work, our youth deserve to inherit a better world than what we have right now. I always feel like we have been set back 20 years, we have a lot of work to do. But I am encouraged whenever I come into contact with incredible and open-minded, loving individuals like yourself, that are willing to do the work alongside us.
It is not one, it is not just me and my book, it is not you and your platform and your amazing spotlight of all of these individuals that are creating these contributions, you are a contributor as well, and I thank you for that. You are using your voice and you are highlighting others voices that are making that positive impact. It is so easy to report on bad news, everybody likes to hear bad news, everybody likes to hear drama, everybody likes to hear the latest gossip, but positivity, effectiveness, efficient change, and transformation…whoa, that is something of a fairy tale. But it does not have to be, and there is strength in numbers, so I am encouraged by you, and we need to continue to do the work and everyone that is going to come into contact, hopefully will feel the same spark, and will want to get involved.
H.O.R.: Correct, and I thank you for that, there are 2 things that I wanted to mention. The character in your series, she is up against big obstacles, and she is able to conquer them, so as we mentioned, it is not biased to any gender, but you are giving us a different perspective, you are demonstrating that there is nothing wrong with a girl being adventurous. I was just telling my friend that today, there is nothing wrong with it, and when they grow up, they will be able to say, I can travel because I read it in a book, or hey I can have my own business, and be a businesswoman because I read it in a book. I saw the little girl being able to do it, and I can do it too. These are going to be multiple conversations that are going to happen soon as well as in the future. I also mentioned to my friend that there is nothing wrong with a girl being powerful, and your series empowers little girls.
I am not saying that it does not empower little boys because it does empower everyone, but it focuses on the fact, as you have mentioned, that there no longer is a “damsel in distress” anymore, times have changed, and women are strong. Little girls can see that the young lady in this series, is strong too. So, it will encourage our future young ladies to do whatever it is that you would like to do, and if you have a dream, you can conquer it as long as you put the effort in, it is super empowering, and encouraging and I love it!
We are so used to a certain theme, and it’s like come on now.
Anna: This is no Hermione and Harry Potter situation, she is not just the brains in the background that is solving everything, Niyah Zuri is at the forefront. Another big part of representation is gender representation, empowering all my girls, letting them know that they will not have to settle to be a damsel in distress, sis you can problem solve, use your greatest treasure…your mind. Those are the things that should be exemplified, those are the things that you should be competitive about, do not be competitive about what you are wearing, or what your body looks like, trying to fit into society’s box.
Build yourself young girl, that is how we take charge, that is how powerful you are, and when I said earlier that our culture has birthed the world, well who is the one doing the birthing…we are, women are so strong, and girls need to understand where to find their power. So yes, Niyah Zuri is my heroine, my fearless Black heroine with crazy wild, curly hair, and she is leading the way. Her best friends Miguel and Hugo Gonzales (twins), they trust her because of her critical thinking skills, because of her problem-solving skills.
She laughs in the face of danger, nothing scares her, she is so confident. Her parents did an incredible job building her up, and even her name as well is very purposeful, the name Niyah Zuri actually means beautiful purpose in Swahili, and I did that on purpose to really inspire all girls, and all children to live purposefully, live in their fullest potential, do not just dream big, but take the actions to walk in your dream. I am going to hit you these fundamental facts really quick:
- Go chase your dreams, walk in your dreams.
- Always bet on yourself.
- Never dim your light.
- Overcome your fears.
- Know that there is nothing that is impossible.
Those are my 5 fundamental truths of Niyah Zuri, those are the pillars that I use to build up my girls, build up my boys, and build all children, however they identify to just understand that this world is theirs, they should be intentional, everyone is allowed to their own destinies, do not allow your neighborhood, your situation, your family…do not let anything stop you from being fulfilled in your life.
H.O.R.: There should no obstacle too great for you to overcome.
Anna: I love saying that there is not such thing as obstacles, they are just opportunities for growth, for you to learn something, learn a new skillset, think outside the box. When things are comfortable it does not inspire any kind of growth. But when you are uncomfortable, now you have some movement, you have some movement, you have to try something different.
I am very visual; you have got to try something different. Out of discomfort, you can expand your mind and your world. If you are comfortable, you will continue to do the same, you will listen to what is being told to you time and time again, you will read the same old books over and over again, not learning anything about yourself, and you will be comfortable and that will be fine with you.
No, you are not living at your fullest potential, get uncomfortable and try something new. Take that crazy idea and create a business plan, you can do that as a child, you can go after your dreams now, do not let your age try to restrict you. That is why is was so important with the first book that I took it back to ancient Egypt, and I helped Prince Tut get over his fear of rule, he was only 8 or 9 years old when he became Pharaoh of an entire ancient kingdom. Of course, he was scared, he’s like I do not know if I can do this.
Niyah and the twins figure out a way to get to Egypt, and they find a way to inspire him, and to motivate him letting him know that if you do not bring about change and keep your kingdom together, the world today would not exist. So much of our knowledge has come from the origin of all lands, so if that was not something that was carried forward, and you just let it all fall apart, then we would not even be here from the future. That gave him the motivation that he needed to stick to his path. So let that be an encouragement to all youth, and all adults as well to not limit yourself. You are the only person that can place limitations on you. Set yourself free, set your mind free and live in your purpose now, because now is the time that we need everyone’s contributions.
H.O.R.: I agree, you have to be able to take that opportunity to grow. There is always going to be a solution, there is always going to be a lesson in the midst of growing and walking forward in whatever situation that you are placed. I fully believe that. I fully encourage people to get through it, and you are going to learn something, and you are going to become a better version of yourself.
I would like to ask you something, I did see all of the categories that you have to offer parents, I know that it goes for teachers but mostly for parents as well now that we are at home doing virtual learning. You have word search, coloring pages, character change, story mapping, re-tell a story, you have so many different tools that you are offering for our youth to become their best selves. I would like to thank you for that because we need that, especially now that we are stuck at home, thinking I have not done this in 15 years (they both laugh), we need the proper tools to help us stimulate our children’s minds.
Anna: I will just put it out there that those are all free, this is not something that you have to purchase, just go to my website, www.annanyakana.com click on parent/teacher resources and just print, or use it online if you can to fulfill whatever it is that you need, whether you use it for supplemental learning, maybe it can be for extra credit, let it inspire a book club, or a writer’s workshop…anything that you need, it is important that we provide the services and the programs for the people.
H.O.R.: The fact that you are giving, of course you have the book, and it is not that expensive, I looked at it, and I am going to get me one.
Anna: I did that on purpose sis. There are a lot of competitors, and this is a 134-page book, and this is a chapter book, there are no pictures in here. I did re-format it during the quarantine, just to add a little more of a design element to it, but fundamentally there are no illustrative pictures in it. It is a chapter book, and it does have a full glossary. So any word that is underlined, you can flip to the back of the book, and you can build up your vocabulary, learn about people, places, and things that you normally would not have, and other ways to improve your communication skills, so that you can be more confident in my life.
Once again, this is a chapter book, and I noticed that a lot of my competitors, they have their books for $15-$25, but it was very important to me to stay true to who I am, and it was difficult for my parents to be able to afford Christmas presents, let alone books. Most of our gifts were always donated from shelters, from non-profits in the community, shout out to Person to Person, they literally gave me the clothing on my back up until I was 16.
Every single Christmas present, every year we did not have it, so the last thing that I was able to do was to ask my parents for was a book because we do not have the books of representation in school, that was heartbreaking for me. I ensured that when my book was released, I was going to make sure that it was at least under $10, and it has only gone up by $2 in the past four years, and I did that on purpose, and that will be the cap and that will remain the cap, unless it is in a series volume because I need to make sure that the monetary purchase of it is not something that is going to set back a family.
At least I know that a child can save up enough quarters to save $10.
H.O.R.: Exactly and that is beautiful. I noticed that, and I was like…get out of here, I was like wow, she is really looking for us!
Anna: Go to my website, do not go to other retailers, it is available everywhere but do not go to other retailers, I am my own publisher as well, so support an independent publisher, and when you get it from my website, I will autograph it and send a personalized message to anyone that you want. So, you will get a personalized message from me, and if you are buying multiple copies, I will be sending a different message for all the copies that are purchased, so if there are 5 kids names, I will be sure that everyone receives a personalized message from me, so that every child feels connected to it.
H.O.R.: That is amazing! I did not know that I saw that it was available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and other places where you purchase your books. Everybody, go to the website (they both laugh) www.annanyakana.com I just want to thank you for that. I want to say briefly, my parents are immigrants from Mexico, and I pride myself in that. I pretty much taught myself English. I was put in school where English was the main language, but my home language was Spanish. I always saw that there was this teacher who spoke so differently, and I wanted to learn how to speak like her.
I tweaked my English so much so that I could switch it up, but on the side of town that I was raised, I was like if you don’t stop playing with me right now (laughter). But it is okay to know how to navigate. Vocabulary has been the thing for me growing up. I have to put in that work, so the fact that you have a book out there that is not too expensive for our youth in our own communities to purchase and benefit from in improving vocabulary, that is big!
Anna: Thank you. It is funny, I have mentioned this in some other interviews, I will say it here too. So, the way that I was able to practice my English, was that I “found” an old dictionary in the back of a classroom one day, and I swiped it and took it home. I remained disciplined and I studied a word, highlighted it every single day, and I studied a new word every day until I became fluent in English. It was not even my ESL class, they ended up passing me and graduating me 2 years before everyone else in my class.
Once you come here (America) at a certain age, I came here in the first grade, so by then English was the third language that I was learning. They told me that I was going to have be in ESL for 5-8 years to condition the mind. The more English that I learned…and what is funny is that American English is backwards, this is not the proper way to speak English. It was just so funny to me, but I stumbled upon that over the years. I practiced and learned my English through a dictionary. I applied myself every day and I possessed that immigrant mentality of working hard, earning your worth.
So, I commend you for that, and sister to sister, I love your story, and I love the focus that you had, and the values that your parents gave you because I can see it coming off the screen. I can hear it in your voice. I can hear it for the reasons why you love my book, and my movement so much, you see the qualities, and I have a lot of subliminal messaging in the book as well to really uplift our youth. There are a lot of gems in there. At the end of the day, there are things that more advanced readers will pick up on, knowledge that is really not taught.
Like I said, it is historical fiction, so it is all completely made up, this is based on research, everything is based on research. There are plenty of citations, so you can google any word in the glossary, and you can pull it up and validate that it has been fact checked. It took a little bit of extra time, but I need to make sure that it could be an educational resource.
H.O.R.: To piggyback off that, you were going to school for something completely different and then you transitioned into what you are doing, and I was like she really loves the children! You genuinely dedicated yourself…you left the lane that you were in and you completely shifted into something entirely different, you just want to help and I just want to give you kudos for that because that is big!
A lot of people are like, this over here makes more money. I will do it down the line, and then people forget about because it was not a priority, but you put it on the forefront and you focused on that, so shoutout to you!
Anna: I appreciate you so much sis. I do apply a lot of the lessons that I took but really, it was more about the lessons that I had in the fields. I was in corporate America for a solid 13 years. I worked in a lot of different industries. I knew that this was my calling, I knew that this was my destiny. I worked so hard to keep this as a side hustle but at the end of the day my heart just was not into to it, I knew that this was something that I needed to fulfill. I knew that it was life’s purpose, and my life’s mission. I was tired of splitting myself in half every day.
So, one day I decided to walk away from the corporate world and dedicate myself 1000% to the mission, and here I am.
H.O.R.: We see it, and that is the encouragement that we need, for our youth and our adults. In order to focus on your purpose, you have to know what your purpose is. I had this conversation recently on social media, focus on what is good for you, and stick to it. Every day focus on what step that you can take forward in that direction. Do not fight your purpose, we all have our own thing.
Anna: Be thankful if you know what it is, if you do not then you need to take some more time to do that inner work, take some time to figure out what you are good at, take some time to figure out what is going to keep you up at night, what is going to wake you up in the morning, something that you will do for free, and believe me, I have done so many things for free, I still do things for free, I volunteer my time left and right. Especially the schools that do not have budget, it is not about that, it is about making an impact. We will find some sponsorships or somebody to cover a couple of 100 books, we will find a way, but at the end of the day, I just want to make sure that the books are there, that the messaging is there and that I can connect with the kids, that is what it is about.
So, whatever you will do for free, is probably your passion. Do not ignore yourself, everybody was meant to have something that sparks life in them, find out what that is and hold it tight. Cultivate that spark into a flame that will burn forever more that nobody can extinguish.
H.O.R.: Thank you for that. I would like to ask you about B.W.I.M. (Black Woman in Media), that flows into what you have been doing, and you were a speaker at an event, it shows what you have been dedicating yourself to for us.
What was that like, how did you feel, and what did you take from it?
Anna: There were a lot of big names and I came to the realization that I can say that my name is big too. I have worked for opportunities like this that are now presenting themselves and are coming my way, after years and years of work. It was such an amazing opportunity to be selected to be a speaker, to sit on the panel as well with 2 other powerful speakers, talking about our industry, and what we are doing in the literary world, and how we came about, our origin stories, our transformation stories, and giving useful tips and advice to other Black women in media. Women of culture who are doing it and doing it well. This is also a networking opportunity, and a way for all sisterhood to ban together, and be supportive of each other.
We battle things daily because of the hue and color of our skin. We should not be competing against each other, we should be embracing each other, and uplifting one another. So, it was a wonderful event, and I will never forget it for the rest of my life, there were definitely some huge names that were on the ticket, that were a part of the entire conference and there so many amazing honorees like, M.C. Lyte, Tamron Hall, my girl Vinasia, Co-founder of For(bes) The Culture, shout out to you. It was really an incredible experience and all these ladies deserve their flowers and they deserve them now while they are able to enjoy them and see them and smell them for their life’s work up until this point.
So, it was an awesome experience, thank you for asking. I look forward to continuing to partner up with all women, to uplift each other, to knowledge share, and to pull up that seat at the table, there is plenty of room, come on ladies, let’s go…we do not have to be in this together, we do not have to do the daily battling, let us get together and let us be a combined army. We are strong, we helped birth this world, we are strong, and we have strength in unity. We already know that there are so many things in society that are going to try to break us down, the competitive nature, the fact that they will only do one diversity hire per department. These are the things that we have to fundamentally change, it is not okay. It is time that our voices are heard, but our voices will only be heard if we use them in one accord.
H.O.R.: I agree, together we are stronger, and that is what the whole idea is. We have to stick together, and that convention, my jaw dropped. I thought that it was amazing when I saw that you were a part of it, and I just had to ask you because I wanted to know what it was like for you.
Anna: But how did I just go from doing normal stuff like YMCA virtual visit with the kids to B.W.I.M., but how are you doing this, no days off.
H.O.R.: Anna, you put in that work, and when you put in that work, you are going to reap the reward, that is exactly what that is, and there are levels to this. I know that is so cliché but there are levels to the hard work.
Anna: Everyone is deserving of the levels, including yourself, you have to tell yourself that because we have a tendency to hold ourselves back, especially as women. We are the secondary class; the men are the more the dominate, but we have to realize that we are birthing these men, we are raising them up, so why is it an issue for us to raise ourselves up?
Raise you vibration, tap into essence, understand that you are an Empress, you are a Goddess. We speak life, we birth life, so birth it within yourself. Attain those levels, whatever level you want to see, because once again, we know now that we are the only ones that can put limitations on ourselves. so set yourself free, attain the level that you want, and be a contributor to this world.
H.O.R.: You are clearly doing that, you received the 2020 Women of Color Award, can we talk about that, and then the Connecticut House of Representatives congratulated you, let’s talk about that.
Anna: Thank you, and I just received a second recognition from a Lieutenant Governor, who is also a female, from the state of Connecticut, thank you! Yes, it was the 100 Women of Color Award, and I was the 2020 class valedictorian. It was such a big honor; it was a double honor. It is something that is recognized in all of New England…it’s Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York (although New York was mentioned, it is not a New England state). There is a selection that is put together every year by Eleven28 Entertainment and June Archer, and I am just so thankful to them for recognizing me for the work that I am doing.
I received the award for the things that people do not know that I do, all the volunteer work. So, here is the thing, when I first started out with my book, I got nothing but no’s, not only from the publishers, which is why I decided to self-publish, and then years later to create my book and print it the proper way, I re-released my book during the quarantine, it hit 7 best seller lists by the way. It just goes to show that if you stay dedicated, and focused, people will support people…you build up that movement and tribe for the right reasons, stay authentic, and people will definitely support you if the reasoning is there, if the impact is there for the right reasons.
So, with that said, I also had issues getting into schools, I was like this book needs to be in the curriculum, put it in the curriculum, I just thought that they would say yes because I am so optimistic, and I can see the vision so clearly but all I got were no’s. I got no’s from all of the schools, they did not want me in there, their curriculums were already complete for the year, they did not have the budget, it was excuse after excuse.
So, I stuck to what I knew, I went to the “hood”, I went to the projects, I went to the lowest performing schools that nobody cared about, and they did not say no, they did not turn me away, they were thankful to see someone that looked like them, that sounded like them, but has come from where they have come from, and have decided to push ahead against the no’s, give myself a yes, and now I am here to motivate you, I am here to empower you, I am here to give something where you can learn about yourself, and build up that knowledge of self.
I went to the schools that nobody wanted to, and I volunteered my time. I did not care about getting paid my author fees to come there, and spend my time, whether it was a classic author visit, whether it was a writer’s workshop, or just volunteering as a motivational speaker for the kids. I volunteered a substantial amount of my time to do that. I never bragged about it, I never even told anybody about it, I was just excited to get my books in the young readers hands, and to make an impact and to finally have that fulfillment of the book being in the curriculum. I partnered with lots of companies in the communities, and I would find people to sponsor the books, even if it was parent groups, I would be like cold calling, I would do whatever I had to do to make sure that Howard School could get 100 books.
Books are not cheap but once again if the impact and the reasoning is there, and you show people your passion, and you show them the long-lasting affect that it can have, the positive affect that it can have, they will pull up for you. So, because of all those reasons, word spread across the state, who is this Anna Nyakana, and I was nominated, then I was confirmed to be honored with the 2020 100 Women of Color Award, and class valedictorian for all of that work. It was such a momentous occasion, that my entire state recognized me for the work, they were proud of me and now they were telling me to go forth, continue. Go out into the world and spread the Niyah Zuri message sis.
H.O.R.: You created your own path and that inspires me to see that even when there is a no, over and over again…you just go ahead and blaze your own trail. You have to believe in yourself, like you mentioned, it starts with you, you have to know that this is what you are meant to do, and nothing is going to stop you. When you start believing in your greatness, and knowing your greatness, there is nothing that can stop you, and that is exactly what happened with you. You are relentless, you have a mission and a purpose and there is nothing that is going to stop you. I do not see anything stopping you.
So, thank you for all of that.
Anna: Thank you for the recognition. Thank you for being an incredible woman, and for uplifting me, and pouring into me, this right here is a beautiful example of how sisterhood should be, so I thank you. I thank you for your genuine self, and for understanding the importance of uplifting a fellow woman of color, so that we do not feel like we are in it alone, it is so important.
H.O.R.: Thank you so much. I just want to thank you for making the time to speak with me, I know that you are busy, I read, and I am tuned into what you are doing, and it is commendable, keep on the great path that you are on. There is greatness that lies before you, so continue to do what you are doing, we are here for it, we see you and we are rooting for you, thank you so much.
Anna: Thank you so much, I will not let you down. I will not any of you down, I will continue to work, honestly, I carry everyone in my spirit, I really do. Please keep up with me, the website, all social media @niyah_zuri. I have a lot coming out, I am working on the second book, I am also working on this teaser for Adventures with Niyah Zuri, now jumping from books to digital content with my cartoon series, and I have other top-secret projects that I will be dropping very soon, so I will be making announcements regarding those things that I have been working on. I am extremely excited and grateful for the universe just blessing me, and really honoring me with the opportunity to continue the movement.
H.O.R.: I would like to ask you, this is something that I do at the end of my show, are there any shout outs that you would like to make?
Anna: Let me shout out my plug, shout out to Michelle Mackel at Plugstar, she is my P.R. plug and we teamed up recently during the quarantine and she and I are just an unstoppable force. It is important to have good people on your team, that believe in you, that believe in your mission. I know that she will go all in for me, so shout out to Michelle. Of course, my family, everybody in Connecticut…CT stand up! Everybody back home in Uganda, stand up! Everybody back home in Berlin, stand up and shout out to the Niyah Zuri tribe! I love you, thank you for rocking with me from day one. Even if you are just tapping in today, thank you for seeing the vision and being committed to the purpose of what we are doing. Let us transform this world, let’s continue to work.
H.O.R.: It has been very humbling to speak with you, you have many projects in the works, and I look forward to speaking with you again. Keep doing what you are doing and continue to stay beautiful inside and out, you’ve got the looks and the brains.
Anna: So do you sis, we are united, and we come together as a full package (they both laugh).
H.O.R.: Thank you so much…until next time.