Don't Let Anyone Dim Your Light: Emmy-Winning TV Host, Author, and Entrepreneur Markette Sheppard
Markette Sheppard joins us on the podcast to talk about finding your light, shining your light, and not allowing anyone to tell you to dim your light. Along the way, we talk about her best-selling children's books (My Rainy Day Rocket Ship, What Is Light? and the upcoming Ninja Nate) and Alphabet in a Flash, the multicultural ABC flash cards for early childhood learners she created that will soon inspire a children's television series. As a TV host, Markette won an Emmy award for her role as host and moderator of a morning show in Washington, DC. She is the host and creator of The Glow Girl’s Guide to Life, a 12-part social media series on Glow Steam TV. Markette is also founder of The GLOW Brands, a digital marketing & consulting company aimed at illuminating brands around the world. Join us for a conversation about the importance of representation and of shining your light and building connections.
Are You Ready To Blast Off Into A World of Imagination and STEAM?
[00:33] Dr. Diane: I am so glad you're here. And I want to start by talking about the books I absolutely fell in love with My Rainy Day Rocket Ship. I use it when I talk to children about imagination connecting with STEM and STEAM. And for those who don't know it, it's a beautiful book about using your imagination to build a rocket ship, and it connects so beautifully to so many things. What prompted the inspiration for that book?
[01:00] Markette: First and foremost, it's just like that Beatles song. Like, you may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I have always been fascinated with outer space and the stars and heavenly bodies as a child and as an adult. Whenever NASA makes news, I click on that link. But lots of people in underserved communities, whether it's women not being served by the science and technology, engineering and math communities, or people of color, we're not ushered into learning more about science and space. And it's so fascinating, and I just believe it's something that is relatable to all people. Everybody lives underneath the moon and the stars and looks up at a night and says, wow, I wonder what's out there?
So saying that, I've always been fascinated with space. After I became a mother eight years ago, I have an almost nine year old, I began writing children's stories because I could see in my son's face his fascination and wonder with everything. One of the first winters that we had in Washington, DC. when my son was little, after he was born, it was a really harsh winter, and then I noticed as a toddler, he wanted to go out and play, and he couldn't because of inclement weather, snow and rain and sleet and just it being uncomfortable to go out and play, at least for adults. And so I thought, oh, my gosh, he wants to go out and play. He wants to make friends, and he can't. And so let's make our own fun. So that was really the inspiration behind My Rainy Day Rocket Ship. When it came out in May of 2020, all kids were inside. They were stuck inside. It wasn't because of a rainy day. It was because of the pandemic.
[03:29] Dr. Diane: Absolutely.
[03:30] Markette: Yeah. And you can just imagine children across the world looking out their windows, hoping a friend would stop by and they couldn't have a playdate and they wanted to. And I went through that as a parent, as a mother, watching my son. And what I've always told my son is when we couldn't have a playdate and go outside, we needed to make our own fun. And that's what My Rainy Day Rocket Ship is all about. We take everyday items and when I say we, the character in my book and his parents, they take everyday items from around their house and they decide to create a rocket ship to go to a far away place. And by far away, I mean far away from boredom.
Don't Let Anyone Dim Your Light
[04:21] Dr. Diane: Right. And you've also written What Is Light? Tell us a little bit about What Is Light?
[04:28] Markette: So What Is Light? is my first book. It's a board book for babies. And it's all about the inner light that we all have inside of us. So, as the book says, light can be many things, such as the brightness our sun brings. It can be the light of an insect, like a firefly, which when I was a kid, we used to capture in jars and then let go.
[04:58] Dr. Diane: I still go and catch them.
[05:00] Markette: You do! Such a great summer time activity, right?
[05:05] Dr. Diane: Absolutely.
[05:07] Markette: So that's a form of light. And then I talk about the light from a hug. When you light up, when you see someone you like and love. Light weight like butterflies and doves, but then also the light that's inside of you. When people say so and so is beaming with light.
[05:30] Dr. Diane: Absolutely. That light that inspires.
There's an energy that we all emit. It's just a warmth and a feeling that people have. And I want children of the world to know you have a light inside of you. Do not let anyone dim that light. -- Markette Sheppard [05:34]
The Power of Children's Picture Books and Images In Shining Light
One of the things I love about Markette's picture books, multicultural flash cards, podcast, and GLOW TV work is they all show children (and adults) who they can be by holding up mirrors for them of what their world could look like, as well as providing opportunities to dream and empathize and connect. In many ways, Markette's work closely echoes that of Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, in that it provides many avenues for windows, mirrors and sliding glass doors. If you've been following me for a while, you'll know that children's literature provides mirrors for kids to see themselves represented, provides windows for them to be able to see out into other experiences in other worlds, and then the sliding glass doors are those transformative experiences that help them to change and to grow. And I think true children's literature is diverse in that way and it really creates that wonderful experience. And so I love what Markette Sheppard does with her books and products in terms of being able to model for kids.
[06:58] Markette: What's funny is I didn't expect this, but my son, whose name is Wesley, when my book came out, he opened the page to the little boy in What Is Light? At that time, he was five, and he said, oh, that's Wesley. That's me. And then the illustrator, Cathy Ann Johnson, she said she created the images in the likeness of her nieces and nephews. So what I love is that children of color have characters in books and they can identify with it. And my son thought it was him. And the illustrator’s nieces and nephews, they thought it was them. They have more role models in their books and their learning materials that represent who they see in the mirror.
[07:52] Dr. Diane: Absolutely. And I 100% agree with that. I was looking at some of the materials you've developed, like the multicultural ABC cards and your posters. What inspired those?
[08:03] Markette: The ABC cards, so they're multicultural, and that A isn't for apple, it is for Africa. It's one of the major continents of the world. Children need to learn about Africa. And B is for black. But I reference black as in a color in the galaxy, so there's a science lesson in there. And C is for chocolate. Doesn't everyone love chocolate? And so there's all of these different colors of brown and black sprinkled throughout the flashcards. Because I wanted children to have culturally affirming representations of the alphabet, because this is a fundamental lesson in life.
When kids go to preschool, the first thing they learn is their ABCs, right? And so I wanted to make sure that they were learning in an environment with pictures and images and words that said, I see you. I hear you. I love you. And E is for excellent. And there isn't any talk about race or any cultural divide. It's just representation. -- Markette Sheppard
[09:57] Dr. Diane: I think that's powerful for every preschool. All children, no matter what color, need to be able to see that representation and to see how beautiful it is.
The Power of Storytelling in Different Mediums
[11:20] Markette: You know what I found as a journalist? That storytelling can be transformed into many different mediums. When I was young, as a teenager, and I said, I'm going to go after being a broadcast journalist. I want to be on TV. I had no idea that building a television career involved writing scripts every day. I worked in live radio at an NPR station for two years. That was the best training because I was writing under pressure. I was writing to save my job. Because in radio, all you have is your story. That is your body of work. Yes, you can try to kiss up to the boss, and it helps if you have a nice personality. But if your writing isn't good, you don't have a leg to stand on because you don't have visuals like television to help you tell your story. All you have is your words and your voice.
So I started out in radio, and then I worked in television at local news stations in Washington, DC, Richmond, Virginia. I worked in television and cable news in New York, building a career up until literally the day I gave birth, I was hosting a morning show and I had a baby. And when I gave birth, I stayed at home for a year. And then that's when I realized, oh, I'm a storyteller. I don't need television as a medium or radio as a medium to tell stories. I can tell stories in my notebook. And that's what I started to do when I was at home, reading books that people had given me as gifts. And I would change the ending, or I would look at the illustrations and say, oh, I wish the characters were doing this instead of that, or, I wish it was more diverse. And then I just said, I'm going to write a story for my son, and I'm going to read it to him. And then it dawned on me, wait a minute. This doesn't just have to be for my son. I can send this to publishers. And by that time, I had already gone back to TV and I was hosting a morning show. And in commercial breaks, I would write stories. I wrote The Flashcards, which, if you read them from A to Z, it reads like a rhyming book.
[13:58] Dr. Diane: Oh, that's really fascinating.
[14:01] Markette: Yeah. So A is for Africa, spanning from C to shining C. B is for black, the richest color in the galaxy. And then it goes on and on to rhyme until you get to the letter Z. But I wrote that during commercial breaks while I was hosting a morning show in DC. What Is Light? I wrote in a notebook when I was on maternity bed rest. And My Rainy Day Rocket Ship I wrote in the middle of the night when I couldn't sleep.
And so writers write, journalists tell stories. It doesn't matter what platform you're on. And I'm so glad that motherhood pushed me into writing, for children are the best audience, right? They really are open. They're open to wonder and ideas.
From Television and Radio to the World of Entrepreneurship
[14:53] Dr. Diane: And you're also an entrepreneur on top of all of that. Where do you find the time is my first question.
[14:59] Markette: Yeah, some people ask me that, and I think, maybe I have an overactive brain. Maybe I need to talk to you about that.
But I love what I do. And so when you love what you're doing, it's easy to find time in your day to do it.
So What Is Light?, My Rainy Day Rocket Ship, the first two books that I wrote, I wanted a publisher because I knew that I didn't know book publishing. I knew television, I knew writing and storytelling. I knew a little bit about kids, right. About new mothers, sure. But I didn't know anything about publishing. But I was determined to get a book publisher, and I found a great one in Simon & Schuster, in the Denene Millner Books imprint.
But when it came to my Flashcards, I submitted this as a book at first, and my publisher said, there are so many ABC books on the market, we just will pass, and that's okay. But I believed in these words. I saw my son getting these flashcards, and A was for Apple, and kids usually don't like vegetables and fruit, no matter how much you want them to. And I said, he's not going to relate to this. I know it. I can feel it. So I said, I know just enough to be dangerous about book publishing after publishing two books. So I'm going to figure out how to bring this concept to market. And I decided flashcards because I was thoroughly dissatisfied with the lack of diversity, not only in flashcards on the market, you're picking it up from your big box stores or ordering online from education specialty stores. But I was thoroughly dissatisfied with the lack of diversity, the lack of cultural representation in flashcards. And I just said, you know what? I'm going to do this. I hired an illustrator who happened to be the husband of my producer at the morning show. He's a fabulous illustrator. And I invested the money to pay him, a graphic designer ,and a printer I found on the Internet. And I said, I'm going to bring this to market.
And by the time I finished the project, it just happened to be the middle of the pandemic. America was undergoing a racial reckoning with cell phone footage captured by people all over the country of injustices done to people with brown skin. And so when I put these on Etsy in April of 2020, by the end of the summer, they were selling with very little promotion. And I started getting letters from teachers like the one in Oregon who I mentioned, and parents who said, thank you for creating this. I've been looking for something like this. And then I happened to give the flashcards to a television executive I was having a meeting with to try to get back into television, and he is Hispanic. And he looked at it and I said, you have a six year old. And I pulled out of my purse, well, here's some flashcards for him because it also helps them read, not just learn their ABCs. He loved it, and he said, let's turn this into a show. And timing really helps with Americans awakening to we have a race problem in this country. It's not only is it dangerous, but we're not really depicting people in a diverse way, in a positive way. And so people really have responded to the ABC Flashcards. And I'm really proud to say that I'm working on a children's television program based on these flashcards thanks to a random meeting I had with a television executive where I just gave him a pack of cards out of my purse because I learned he had a six year old at home.
The Power of Connections
[19:21] Dr. Diane: Well, and I think so many of those connections are what bring us together and are so important. You never know who you're going to meet that can help you on that next path. And I think you were talking about the race problem in America. I think that so much of what we're lacking right now is that compassion and empathy and connection. And if you can do something like you're doing, where you're building understanding and representation, I think that's huge.
[19:49] Markette: Yeah. And I'm really proud, thank you for that. I'm really proud to say I'm working to build connection in a way that is fun, it's inviting. I try not to be didactic when I'm talking to children, but also I want to promote happiness and joy because there is so much beauty and joy in communities of color.
I grew up in Southern California, and my neighborhood was mostly African American, and it was a great community. The teachers were wonderful, the city council members we knew, the police were great. To the people in our community, there is another narrative. There is another side to African American life in this country. It just doesn't get publicity and promotion. For middle school. I went to a school where everyone was mostly Asian, Filipino in Southern California. And I made so many connections... And there was a huge Pacific Islander community. And they would have a luau every year. And it was like a professional show. It was like something where I've never been to another luau in my adult life, but thanks for the experience in middle school, where I went to school with lots of Asians and Pacific Islanders, I've been to a proper luau. And I long for the days when I can experience that again. For high school, I went to high school that was a majority Latino, so I'm very culturally aware of Latino traditions, foods, and those sorts of things, and I'm so thankful that I can move fluidly in those communities. I think the danger is when we have people who go their entire adult lives and they only interact with different cultures through circumstances, either through what they see on TV, through negative news headlines, or through stereotypes.
[22:14] Dr. Diane:. And I agree you have to come out of your shell, and you've got to reach out, and you've got to build those connections. I was lucky enough to have grown up in a military family, and so I grew up on Fort Bragg, and it was an incredibly diverse experience, and I'm so grateful for the friends that I made early on because it changed the whole course of my life.
Childhood (or College) Picture Book Influences
[24:15] Dr. Diane: You just referenced your own childhood and sort of some of the influences that brought you to where you were. Was there a moment in your childhood where you had a favorite picture book or something that inspired you to want to learn more?
[24:35] Markette: Oh, my goodness. You know what? I get asked this a lot, and I think I really got into picture books when one of my best friends in college, actually she was an education major...and for my birthday and Christmas, she would always gift me with picture books and she's like, this is for your future kids...But she would always give me children's books. She gifted me Today I Feel Silly by Jamie Lee Curtis. Yes, I loved that book. And she gifted me The Prayer of Jabez, which I also love, but The Prayer of Jabez for Kids. And then I got another gift from another friend, Good Night Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. I got these gifts as adults. Maybe my friends were speaking into my destiny without me even knowing. But then after, I had never heard of Good Night Moon, but when I read it, I just thought, how simple, how sweet. So then I read Runaway Bunny on my own and I loved it again. So then I started researching Margaret Wise Brown. But when I was a kid, I can't remember attaching myself to one book or the other. I remember really liking Charlotte's Web. And then I got into the chapter books. I remember the first book I ever read on my own, not for an assignment, was The Color Purple. Yeah, that was a page turner. I was young and I didn't really understand all the concepts, but when you're young, you're so busy trying to be grown up and of course, being older, it wasn't until I was an adult that I really got into picture books.
[27:17] Dr. Diane: Do you have any favorite current picture books, aside from yours?
[27:24] Markette: Yes. Right. I know I don't want to be cheesy and say my own. They are my favorites, but they're like my children, so that goes without saying. I like Good Night Moon, I really do. I like Runaway Bunny, which I mentioned. The ones that I mentioned really are top of mind that have just stayed with me. What I loved about Today I Feel Silly is that Jamie Lee Curtis really did a great job of explaining to children their emotions and just saying to them, hey, it's okay. And as a kid, I was kind of an awkward child, never really knowing where I fit in. I appreciated that book, as a college student, like, okay, I'm allowed to feel different from day to day.
What Messages Do We Send Into the World?
Recognize Your Light, Shine Your Light, Protect Your Light
[28:24] Dr. Diane: So I'm sure you're constantly thinking about messaging and the kinds of messages you want to put out into the world. What are you hoping if you're thinking about messaging to a child, what are the messages you hope they take from your work?
[28:38] Markette: Absolutely. Well, when I speak to children, I want them to know that they have a light inside of them. You're born with a light. When I see children playing on the playground, it doesn't matter what race or gender, how much they have, how many snacks they have in the diaper bag or whatever, they're curious. They usually are welcoming to those who are different from them from a very young age. Something happens along the line where people begin to separate and section off and say, well, you're different from me, you're this, or I'm not like them, or I don't have that. And really what I want to tell children is, you are born with everything you need. A heart, a mind, hopes, wishes, and dreams. Everybody is born with that same light. You know, that energy, whatever you want to call it, that can guide you towards having a fulfilling life. So the first step is recognize that you have a light.
[29:51] Markette: Shine it. That’s step two. Step three is protect your light. Don't let anyone dim your light. That's what I want to say to children and through my business, Glow Stream TV. Everything I do with that is, whether it's a speaking engagement, I speak to a lot of groups in person. I do a lot of writing for groups, associations, and companies. I speak to adults where somewhere along the line, their light has been dimmed. And I'm saying, revive your light, protect your light. Move closer to people who make it easier for you to shine your light. Don't listen to the people who tell you to dim your light or be small in their presence. Anyone who makes you feel like, I need to shrink or I need to pull back or show less of who I am, those aren't the right people for you to be around for you to reach your potential. And, hey, I'm on this journey too. I want to reach my potential in life, and I want to the fullest capacity possible, serve whatever purpose that I have on this Earth and be an enlightened human being. So when I'm writing these books or I'm giving speeches or I'm doing my work through my business, I'm thinking, how is this going to make an impact 100 years from now, the way Margaret Wise Brown wrote a book so many decades ago, and it's still making an impact, right? It's still inspiring people. What can I do to inspire future generations? That's my life. That's my legacy. That's my purpose. And other people have that, too.
[31:43] Dr. Diane: I absolutely love that. And I think you're so inspiring. We're very lucky to have you pushing us to glow up with you.
[31:52] Markette: Oh, thank you. Thank you. Because life is hard. So I don't want to at all seem like someone who doesn't recognize life is hard. I've had my challenges, and then I've come to this place in my life where I am so focused on my purpose because of the hard times. The hard times make you appreciate the good times.
[32:13] Dr. Diane: Absolutely. Well, and you're making me appreciate what an adventure we are privileged to have and to be able to have these connections with one another, to support each other and lift each other up. That's what the adventure in learning is all about.
[32:28] Markette: I love that you're sharing your platform with me as well. And we're taking these connections beyond the headlines. And I worked in news for many years, and there's a saying in news if it bleeds, it leads. You know what I mean? So there is a formula that scares people up a tree, shakes a stick at them, and then lets them down. And you're on this emotional roller coaster. So it's important for people to listen to podcasts like yours that aim to inform and inspire. That's also a part of taking in information. You can't just be focused on the 24 hours news cycle.
New Adventures for Markette -- A Sneak Peek at 2023's Ninja Nate
[33:09] Dr. Diane: Exactly. And I do think we need more of that joy and that connection in our lives. So what are your next adventures? What are you working on right now besides the TV show?
[33:20] Markette: Well, that has been such a joy because I'm like, I can't wait to show children this TV show, but I can't right now. It's in postproduction. I have a third book coming out. It's called Ninja Nate. And I have the illustrations (illustrated by Robert Paul Jr.). It's in the works with a publisher, and I have been instructed not to share any pictures.
[33:47] Dr. Diane: It's so exciting, though.
[33:49] Markette: It's so hard because I have this little secret. I have another book, and the books are like my kids. So Ninja Nate is my fourth kid. Wesley is my actual son. Wesley is my second child. What Is Light? — that’s my first born. My Rainy Day Rocket Ship is my third born. Ninja Nate is my fourth, and I love him. I can't wait to share this story with the world because I stretched my writing comfort zone. I wrote and I created a concept where I intentionally pushed myself out of my comfort zone.
[34:30] Dr. Diane: That's exciting. Are you allowed to share anything about what it's about, or is it all top secret?
[34:35] Markette: I think there's a little bit on the Internet. Let me see what I could say.
[34:41] Dr. Diane: Can you tell us when it's due out?
[34:43] Markette: It's supposed to come out in the fall of 2023. Ninja Nate is a story about a little boy who's faced with he's faced with a decision to he’s — oh, my goodness, how do I say this and not give it away? This is hard for me because I'll say I'm not someone from the differently abled community.
[35:11] Dr. Diane: OK.
[35:11] Markette: But I wrote a story about a little boy who's differently abled because I wanted to learn more about children who don't have all their limbs and how they operate in the world and what it must feel like to be a child who's operating with different capacities than other children.
[35:37] Dr. Diane: I bet the research process was incredible.
[35:40] Markette: Yeah. I was inspired to write this story about a little boy and how he deals with having a tragic accident in his life. How do you deal with that the first time you go on the playground?
[35:54] Dr. Diane: Oh, wow.
[35:56] Markette: Right. And do you make a decision to say, yes, this happened to me, I'm differently abled, this is who I am, or do you try to hide it? And I wrote this story after reading an article in the New York Times about children in the Middle East who were affected by mines. And there was this group of cousins. I can't remember the article or the name of the article or the exact story, but there was this group of cousins and they were playing in a field in a war zone. Someone stepped on a landmine, and now, like, all of the cousins lost a limb here or there. And the journalist follows one of the boys into the hospital and he wakes up overnight and he forgot that he was missing a limb and gets up to hop out of bed and falls on the floor. Can you imagine? Can you imagine? And that story just stuck with me. This is a real story of a kid in a different part of the world. And as we get up and live our lives, and as Americans, we don't think about where we walk on a field or a playground, assume it's safe and probably can go our whole lives assuming it's safe and be correct. But for children who don't have that luxury, what must life be like? So that was the inspiration behind the story. But I bring the story here to America and I deal with a child who's facing similar types of problems. And I'm so sorry. Long winded on that. NOTE: this is not the original article Markette referenced, but it does provide some background information on the legacy of landmines around the world.
[37:44] Dr. Diane: No. I am so intrigued and excited to read Ninja Nate, and I can't wait to see it when it comes out in 2023. That's really exciting.
[37:55] Markette: And there's fun involved in it because I'm talking about a kid's life, two kids. So there's some silliness, there's some snacks involved, there's some play fighting and sword fighting going on. This is not a tragic story. This is an uplifting story. This is a story about empowerment and about children deciding from a very young age, who are they going to present themselves to be in the world? So it's not sad. I do want to say that it's a very happy story.
Searching for Joy
[38:44] Dr. Diane: What's something that bri