Justine Simmons of 'Run's House' Pens Book for Kids
TONY COX, host:
Here on NEWS & NOTES, we've made it a priority to preview new books for black audiences. Today we focus on literature for young people. In a moment, a book for teens about an African prince in 18th century America. But first this.
Justine Simmons is probably best known for keeping it real on MTV's reality series "Run's House." The show follows the family life of Simmons and her husband, Reverend Run, member of the groundbreaking rap group, Run-DMC. Now everyone's favorite hip-hop mom is showing kids to talk to God about anything in an illustrated children's book, "God, Can You Hear Me?" Justine spoke with NPR's Farai Chideya.
FARAI CHIDEYA: This is a beautifully illustrated book. How did you decide to take on this project?
Ms. JUSTINE SIMMONS (Author, "God, Can You Hear Me?"): I took it on because of my son, Daniel. My husband and I, we write to God and we also teach our children to write to God. And one day he had a situation and he said that he wrote a letter to God, he left it on the side of his bed, and that next morning my husband and I came in to talk to Daniel about a situation. And he was just like, mommy, it really works. He said, I wrote a letter to God and you and daddy came in here and talked to me about the same thing I wrote.
And that let me know that, you know, children, no matter what nationality they are or what religion they are, they can learn early in life to go to a higher power.
CHIDEYA: Your book deals with issues that are widespread and painful. In one scene you have a little girl looking at a photograph. And she says grandma died, is she really gone forever? God, can you hear me? How did you pick the situations that you wanted to portray in the book?
Ms. SIMMONS: You know, I just tried to pick situations that I know children probably deal with that maybe a parent is not even thinking that they're thinking about that. There's a situation in the book that talks about clothing, because kids can't afford certain clothing. And then they get teased, and I know that's a big issue. And parents might not even know 'cause they're so caught up in, you know, work and everything, they don't even know that their kid could be going through a lot, not having the in thing.
So I try to let them know that be yourself on the inside and be a good person on the inside and that person will get to know who you are and they won't look at your clothes.
CHIDEYA: Now, you're talking about painful situations that children go through. But you recently went through a tragedy where you had an infant who died. How did that test your faith and your ability to put a book like this out?
Ms. SIMMONS: It was not a good feeling situation. But I know God is in the midst of it all. So I had to look at it like, okay, God, what do you need out of me? My husband and I, we're also thinking about adoption. So I'm saying, okay, God, is this what you want me to do? Do you want me to adopt a child or teach people that there's so many children out there to be adopted here?
It also made me even write more to God and he did hear me. But I kid you not, he gave me the strength, he gave me the peace. I had such a peace where it scared me. Because I didn't feel that hurt that I know a lot of woman probably do. And maybe that's a part of my calling to help. Because I got a lot of e-mails of women who lost not one but seven children, six children, so many I can't even believe.
CHIDEYA: Well, I'm really sorry for your loss. And you definitely are someone who is embracing what you put out in this book. You talk about how you have this peace that came onto you, even though you were in the midst of tragedy. Do you think children understand something like that, that you can have peace even when things are not going the way that you want, even in a very serious situation?
Ms. SIMMONS: Yes. That had to be shown to my children because my husband, he's a very inspirational person and he's a very positive person. And he talks a lot like that at home. So our oldest daughter said to him, daddy, I must say, you know, you always tell us to be strong, you know, and be positive and, you know, think of good thoughts and be thankful for what we have already. And she said when she saw him, you know, do his own thing that he preaches, she said that let her really know that he follows, you know, and follows what he preaches. And it taught them to be stronger.
And I think if we would've, you know, broke down and didn't show faith and say, okay, God has another plan for the Simmons family, they would've did whatever we did.
CHIDEYA: On the back of your book, there's a beautiful picture of your family, really just looking extremely happy. And clearly you're someone who has a lot of dimensions to your life. You've even been called the hip-hop Claire Huxtable. So what lies ahead for you? Are you going to do more TV or are you going to write more books? What do you think?
Ms. SIMMONS: Well, actually, our third season comes out in March of "Run's House." And we're also thinking about going over into Africa with the family. My brother-in-law, Russell Simmons, has projects out there and he wants us to be a part of it. And it's also something I always wanted to do, even as a younger child.
I wanted to go and help the children over there. I always felt sad and felt that I can help them in some way. Also, I have other books that I have under my belt. One is "Good Touch Bad Touch," and that's teaching children what is a good touch and a bad touch. I mean it's kind of a controversial-type book because I will be speaking about a parent or a brother or a sister that can give you a bad touch. And I want to touch those issues.
CHIDEYA: Is this a book that comes out of a personal experience?
Ms. SIMMONS: No, not personally to me, but someone I know. And even before I found out about that person, it's always bothered me when I hear stuff like that on the news and different - it really, really hurt me a lot. I'm affiliated with Safe Horizon for abused women and children and they're trying to get me to be more involved with the Queens Center there.
And it's a sore spot there somewhere. And it's not personally to me, but I don't know, I guess God wants me to deal with that somewhere.
CHIDEYA: Well, it sounds like you have plenty to deal with on your plate, and I hope that your life continues to be as positive as it sounds that you are making it to be. Justine Simmons, thank you.
Ms. SIMMONS: Thank you so much. And thank you for having me.
COX: Justine Simmons is the author of the children's book "God, Can You Hear Me?" and co-star of MTV's hit reality show "Run's House." She spoke with NPR's Farai Chideya.
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