Photography credited to OnoMedia
Although The Alcott Youth Magazine typically highlights female achievements, we were thrilled to hold a recent interview with an intelligent young man using writing to inspire social change. Micah Dawanyi is a twenty-one-year-old author, activist, and artist. He has won awards for his community involvement and oversees creative writing projects with companies all over the world. His first book, Step Into My Shoes: Memoirs From the Other Side of America, is focused on topics surrounding racial injustice, while his latest publication, Battle Scars & Blossoms, discusses mental health disparities in communities of color.
When asked what first inspired Dawanyi to become a writer, he shared that it was “So many things. I mean, I’ve always loved storytelling ever since I was a kid. There was a time before the typical APA-cited research papers of highschool and college, when all teachers would ask you to do was write creative narratives— that was back in elementary school. Simple as those assignments were, I just loved the idea of telling stories and using creativity to express myself. My mom probably played a role too— she was an educator growing up, and loved writing as well.”
Dawanyi did not always realize that he would become a serious writer. Before he had published his first works, Dawanyi was a rising soccer star, but witnessed his athletic ambitions cut short due to nearly fatal heart complications. However, he recognized that the disappointing end to his athletic journey paved the way for him to become an author. “...I would have never started taking writing so seriously if I hadn’t had to give up playing sports. I think athletes use sports as a way to express themselves. Sports are kind of like an artistic medium where you can channel your motivations and passions. So when I stopped playing, I needed another medium to focus my energy into. Since I’d always liked writing, that’s what I picked.”
Given current events surrounding racial injustices, Dawanyi understands that his work is important now more than ever. “I try to tell stories but also educate with my work. Understanding the nuances and breakdowns of racial injustice ultimately requires education, so when I see all that is happening in this country and world, it just makes me want to provide knowledge through my writing. It’s also important for me to simplify my writing. I don’t want to come off like I’m giving a thesis on biomechanical engineering or something. I want my words to be clear and digestible for readers, which is why I try to think of the most effective ways to get my message across.
“I wrote my memoir to allow people to quite literally ‘step into my shoes,’ which is why that was the title of the book. It’s interesting because black artists have been telling our stories for decades, centuries even, about our experiences in society. There’s literally a genre of music that came about from black people’s frustrations and sorrows in dealing with social injustice (the blues). But still, there are so many negative media perceptions, false narratives, and pieces of misinformation about the black experience. I just wanted people to understand what’s really going on, by stepping into my shoes— stepping into the shoes of black America. That’s why I combine historical context with my own present-day storytelling, to show how everything throughout history is connected.”
For other young people with a similar interest in using writing to address social justice issues, Dawanyi shared his personal advice: “Try to be unique in your approach to addressing these issues. Racial injustice and mental health, for example, are fairly broad topics. You can narrow in on specific ways to address these issues by pulling from personal experiences and using your unique voice and knowledge. Also, if it’s not coming from your heart, from your soul, it’s not worth writing. You’ll feel that heart-pulling conviction if you’re really passionate about what you’re writing about. If you don’t feel that, just keep writing until it comes. Never force it— there are so many ways to make your voice heard. Just be patient with yourself.
Considering that The Alcott Youth Magazine centers on the experiences of young girls, Dawanyi also reflected on how he incorporates the female identity into his writing. “...My new book is a fiction that deals with mental health and the dangers of emotional suppression. When I was making the book, I thought about what characters I wanted to attach to the story; some of which were female characters. I also thought about how to present those female characters in a respectable way. I intentionally made sure not to use any of the typical stereotypes for women, like making a character ‘overly emotional’ and sensitive, or inferior, weak, and unimportant to the story. We see that all the time when it comes to female characters in different media forms.
I think it was just important for me to incorporate the normality of women being in positions of power, being respectable, likable characters, and having positive influence over the storyline. I was partly able to do this by pulling from some of the traits and characteristics I see in women in my life, like my mom, grandma, and even friends. Throughout the book, you see the storyline shape and develop in different ways due to the development of the female characters.”
Dawanyi is deeply appreciative of anyone who takes the chance to check out his work. “I put 10,000+ hours into my writing; I put my life in each and every word. Any support I get means the world to me, especially when I see that my work is impacting people.” He has only just begun to touch upon topics he wishes to raise awareness for with his writing, and promises that there is much more to come in the future.
About the Author:
Kaitlyn Donato is a high school student from Winchester, MA. In her sophomore year, Kaitlyn recognized that there were too few magazines focused on writing for and by young women, and decided to create The Alcott Youth Magazine. With the magazine, she hopes to publish inspirational writing for all young people to enjoy.