NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Kayla McCrary is an author!
Her children’s book, “Dream Girl, Dream!,” with illustrations by Brandon Van Leer, just came out and it is receiving wide acclaim.
“Writing has always been my first love and it’s always something I wanted to do,” she says. “So when I found the inspiration, I said I really want to write a children’s book.”
“Dream Girl, Dream,” based on personal experiences, courage and an effort to inspire young kids to be their best, comes amid personal tragedy and the need for strength to move on.
Now a graduating senior and president of the Student Government Association at Tennessee State University, McCrary lost her mother in the first semester of her freshman year at TSU. Her mother’s death also meant becoming the sole mother figure for her then 5-year-old sister, Regan Christian. Devastated, lost and confused, McCrary says she was torn between dropping out and trying to help her sister cope with the aftermath of their mother’s passing.
“It was hard,” says McCrary, an Atlanta native. “Losing our mother at such an early age for my little sister, and me just starting in college, was very difficult for me. She was our biggest support and friend. I thought, how is my sister going to make it and how can I concentrate on school when she needs me?”
Surprisingly, McCrary says her sister showed remarkable resolve and strength that “shocked me.”
“At the time my sister was five and she was literally so strong,” says McCrary, who majors in English with a minor in political science. “She is what kept me together, and helped me get through a lot of things. Seeing her, I realized I had to be the role model, and I had to raise her. She looks to me now. Everything I do is to show her that if I can do it, she can do it too.”
Unlike McCrary, who struggles in math and does well in reading, her sister is the opposite. That parallel, she says, is one of the main inspirations behind “Dream Girl, Dream!”
“For me, growing up, I struggled in math. Reading and language arts were my strongest subjects. For her, she excels in math, but she doesn’t do too well in reading. I think it is mainly because she just doesn’t like reading. So, I figure if I wrote a book, she would be inspired to want to read it. And she has read it and does have copies of it. Her reading has improved. Reading the book I think has inspired her. She told our dad – Reginald Christian – the other day, ‘It’s not fair, sister gets to have a book and a YouTube channel.’ So, I am definitely teaching her how to go after everything she wants. I think she is getting it.,” says McCrary.
With a goal of pursuing graduate studies or entering law school after college, McCrary says in addition to her sister, the book is about inspiring children, “especially children of color, …and about the HBCU experience.” Her aspiration is to be a world-renowned author, philosopher, attorney and humanitarian.
“Dream Girl, Dream!” is mainly a story of inspiration,” she says. “Sometimes in life you go through things that are just not expected, and a lot of things are out of your control. So I want them to know, ‘No matter what your current circumstances are, dream as big as you want to. If your dreams don’t scare you then they are not big enough.’ To some people, writing a children’s book may not seem like a big thing, but for me, it’s everything because I can’t believe I actually did it.”
Angelique Wells, a junior psychology major at TSU, who has faced some difficulties of her own, has read McCrary’s book.
“It is definitely a great read and inspiring,” says Wells, of Nashville, who has known McCrary since entering TSU. “Throughout Kayla’s hardship she still persevered and continued to go on and become president of the SGA and stay active in her college career. That is an inspiration to me because without knowing, she has inspired me to go after a few things. It is a great book. I recommend it to all ages.”
For Van Leer, a TSU graduate and local artist who did the illustration for “Dream Girl, Dream,” working with McCrary was a “professional fulfillment.”
“Kayla approached me after school got out. I had never done a project like this before, but knowing me, I was not good at saying no,” says. Van Leer, known for painting likenesses of individuals like the late world-renowned heart surgeon Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr., and civil rights leader Jesse Jackson.
“I just wanted to take on the project because I love Kayla’s story,” he says. “I love what she was doing. We are both African-Americans, we are both at the same institution (at the time) and we are just doing something positive for the community. Her story was great, and it was a children’s book. You don’t really see that many African-Americans working together. The story was touching and I was just honored by it.”
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With more than 7,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a comprehensive, urban, co-educational, land-grant university offering 38 bachelor’s degree programs, 24 master’s degree programs and seven doctoral degrees. TSU has earned a top 20 ranking for Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, and rated as one of the top universities in the country by Washington Monthly for social mobility, research and community service. Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University celebrated 100 years in Nashville during 2012. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.