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New book highlights accomplishments of Black women around the world

Lilly Workneh and CaShawn Thompson on their book tour in LA.
Stephanie Bell

On Oct. 2, Rebel Girls is hosting an event to celebrate the launch of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Real-Life Tales of Black Girl Magic, the newest volume in its New York Times bestselling series, at The Lit. Bar, a Black-owned bookstore in the Bronx.

Rebel Girls is a kids media and empowerment company focused on introducing diverse stories of extraordinary women from the past and present through books, podcasts and digital media. Through their work, they hope to inspire and instill confidence in a generation of girls around the world. 

The award-winning and best-selling book series of Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls showcase the accomplishments of women around the world.  The first two books were about 100 extraordinary women around the world, the third book was about 100 immigrant women who changed the world, and their newest book, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Real-Life Tales of Black Girl Magic, tells the stories of 100 barrier-breaking Black women.

“We are hoping Black girls will open the book and see people who look like them doing wonderful things,” said CaShawn Thompson, originator of #BlackGirlMagic movement. “These are stories that deserve to be told and everyone deserves to hear them.” 

Lilly Workneh and CaShawn Thompson on their book tour in LA. Stephanie Bell

The book was edited by award-winning journalist Lilly Workneh, who is the head of digital content at Rebel Girls, and includes a foreword by Thompson. Thompson and Workneh spent the past year collaborating with 60 Black women and non binary artists from over 17 different countries who contributed as illustrators, authors and editors to amplify the stories of Black women and girls throughout history. 

“It’s been intentional and important to us that not only the book itself be diverse, with the Black women represented, but the people who helped create it, and I’m just really grateful that I was asked to be a part of it,” Thompson said.  

Black-owned bookstore book tour 

Rebel Girls is in the middle of their black-owned bookstore tour. The tour has been to Los Angeles at Malik Books and  Brave + Kind Bookshop  in Atlanta. The next stop is The Lit. Bar in the Bronx and Mahogany Books in Washington D.C. The tour is a part of the Rebel Girls’ “Black Girl Magic” campaign. 

The Lit. Bar bookstore in the Bronx.Courtesy of The Lit. Bar

The campaign is giving back to black creators and supporting black-owned businesses. Rebel Girls launched a Black Girl Magic Shop with products from Black, women-owned small businesses, partnered with Well Read Black Girl and is hosting a Rebel Girls Fest: International Day of the Girl, a live-streamed virtual event on Oct 10th that will include talks and performances by actress Lovie Simone and Oprah Winfrey

“It’s been awesome to expand on the book by helping to carry through the spirit of supporting the black community,” Workneh said.  

When Thompson started the #BlackGirlMagic hashtag on Twitter eight years ago, she didn’t anticipate for it to become a global movement. She started it because she wanted to do something to make other Black women and girls feel good about themselves. 

“I started using it, and it really resonated with people,” Thompson said. “I’ve gotten countless messages thanking me for saying it, and I remember one person in particular saying, ‘thank you for giving us language to celebrate ourselves.’ That’s really just what it’s about. It’s empowerment, enlightenment, celebratory, it’s a rallying cry, it’s a hug, it’s sisterly love. It’s all those things.”

Book cover of “Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Real-Life Tales of Black Girl Magic” Vania Stoyanova

 In creating the book, Rebel Girls wanted to uphold the spirit of Black Girl Magic, so partnering with Thompson, who popularized the Black Girl Magic movement, made sense. 

“We wanted to make sure that the spirit and essence of what it (Black Girl Magic) really means was present in the book because CaShwan has always clarified that black girl magic is not something that you have to acquire or achieve something to have it, it is something that all black women and girls innately are,” Workneh said. “It’s all the big and small things that we do and the ways that we show up every day.” 

Noëlle Santos, owner of The Lit. Bar said she thinks it’s great that the Rebel Girls are using the book campaign to support black-owned businesses. 

The bookstore has sold some of the Rebel Girls’ books in the past and they have heard good feedback from parents and kids about the books, Santos said. Santos opened The Lit. Bar in 2019 after the last bookstore in the Bronx, a Barnes and Noble, shut down in 2016. 

“We’re familiar with the rebel girls catalog, and we’ve always been very impressed with how they don’t highlight the typical female heroes that always get the attention,” Santos said. “They do a really good job at capturing women from different backgrounds but at the same time highlight some of those unsuspecting heroes that our girls should be looking up to.”

This new book’s purpose: ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’ 

Workneh said she hopes the book will teach the next generation of kids about the contributions Black women have made. 

“A lot of kids don’t center and celebrate black women stories, and so we wanted to help close that diversity gap,” Workneh said. 

CaShawn said the book speaks to the saying, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”

The book helps show girls a “plethora of ways” that they can help contribute to the world and tap into their own passion and purpose, Worneh said. 

“This fourth book is 100 real life tales of Black Girl Magic,” Lilly said. Adding, “The purpose of the book is to center and celebrate the stories and legacies of Black women and girls across time, around the world, from various cultural backgrounds, industries, professions and to showcase the breadth of the ways black women show up and have shown up.”

People attend the Rebel Girls’ book tour event in Atlanta. Vania Stoyanova

The book is split up into four main categories: creators, champions, leaders and innovators and goes as far back as the 17th century with Queen Nzinga of Angola to present day with American poet and activist Amanda Gorman. 

Thompson said it was “very difficult” to pick and choose who to include in the book. 

“What Black girl magic means is that every Black woman that has ever lived, is living and will live is Black girl magic, and so that left us with so many stories that we had to choose from,” Thompson said. “We wanted to make sure we included Black girls of different skin tones, body sizes, gender identification, sexuality and ability, so that at the end we were able to represent the full spectrum of Black women through the women that we chose.” 

Attendees of the book tour in Atlanta.Stephanie Bell

Black women are featured from over 30 countries, including creators like Aretha Franklin, champions Naomi Osaka and Lisa Leslie, leaders Shirley Chisholm and Angela Davis and innovators like Beverly Greene. 

“This is a book that I think both CaShawn and I wish we had when we were kids, and it just goes to show kids everywhere how they can unleash their magic and unlock their potential and learn about the stories of women they may not have known about,” Workneh said.

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