By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Dreams are interesting things. Some dreams escape as soon as one opens their eyes, others linger far into one’s waking hours and some remain in one’s mind long enough to come true. Such is the case with a nightmare turned dream that Decoteau J. Irby had several years ago.
It was 2016, and Milwaukee was dealing with the aftermath of the Sherman Park Uprising. As a Black man with two young children, Irby could not stop thinking about it. One night he had a dream and when he woke up, he sketched out what he saw and presented it to Derute Consulting Cooperative, a Milwaukee-based organization that helps groups create space for diversity, equity and inclusion work of which Irby is a founding member.
Recently, that dream turned sketch became a children’s book, “Magical Black Tears: A Protest Story.” The book was written by Irby and illustrated by Dominque Duval-Diop, a member of the co-op.
The book is a story of discovery, activism, history and healing, Irby said. It follows a little girl and boy who are curious about the events happening in their community, which include police and protestors. When their parents refuse to tell them what’s going on, the two children venture outside one night to find out for themselves.
“Through going on that journey, they discover the real magic of what happens when people go to the streets to protest injustice,” Irby said.
Derute Consulting Cooperative played a huge role in getting the book published.
The co-op began in 2014 with five founding members. While four of the founding members remain, the team has added five additional members from around the country.
“From the very beginning we wanted a space where we could be our authentic selves, with our brains on fire, where we could dream,” Jacqueline Robinson, one of the founding members said. “And that is a space that is primarily Black-owned and a Black-lived space.”
Robinson noted that when the co-op began, it was 100% Black and that many of them had jobs in academia, which are spaces that tend to be predominately white.
“We wanted a space that we could cultivate, that could be supportive of us in the way that we choose,” Robinson said. “That was cooperative, that was communal, that was collaborative.”
Robinson continued, “It’s a space of high productivity, but it’s equally a space of honoring each other and believing in each other and pushing each other to be the best we can possibly be so that we can produce something like this.”
The group’s work has played a huge role in helping companies, organizations and more create space for Black people and other people of color. The book is a prime example of the cooperative’s mission (the book came to be thanks to Black hands, Black ideas and Black energy, Irby said), but it’s been doing this work for years.
“We are really committed to working side by side with our community to improve the lives of Black and brown people,” Robinson said.
The co-op has consulted nonprofits, educational groups, religious organizations, businesses, community groups, the City of Milwaukee and more. All of them are committed to improving the racial and social environment in the community, Robinson said.
“We are challenging many of our partners to think about systems of inequity and injustice that have shackled Black and brown communities for centuries,” she said. “We walk hand-in-hand with our communities to help them see themselves, have honest conversations with themselves and work collectively to create change and sustainable change.”
The co-op had been looking for opportunities to get into publishing and Irby’s book is the first step in that direction.
While Irby had been thinking about making the dream a book for several years, it was the death of George Floyd that pushed him and the co-op to get to work on making it a reality.
“I felt like I had missed the opportunity to have a valuable resource to help my children understand what was happening in 2020,” Irby said.
Irby and the cooperative are hoping that parents and educators will use the book as tool to have conversations with their children.
“These are difficult topics to broach,” Irby said. “And through having a picture book and story, the goal is to give parents and educators the resource that they need to help children both process what’s happening in the world but to also give them the hope and the understanding that they can make the world a better place.”
It’s a book that deals with reality while giving a space for children to dream, Irby and Robinson both said.
“It provides a space for children to dream,” Robinson said. “It provides a space for them to actively have agency of what their reality can be. It’s a book of dreaming, it’s a book of hope, but it’s also a book of reality of systemic racial oppression in our society.”
Irby added, “It deals with the reality of racial injustice, and it also helps young people understand the power of taking a stand to fight those injustices.”
The co-op is currently working on a traveling children’s museum exhibit based on the book. For now, the book is available to purchase at magicalblacktears.com. More information on Derute Consulting Cooperative can be found at deruteconsulting.com.