Brown Boy Brown Girl expands with Meijer bump

Local independent book and notebook company is finding success in passing on lessons in empathy and entrepreneurship to kids.

Teresa Baker didn’t start her company to make money. She started it so her children could see what it takes to be an entrepreneur. To learn how to turn an inspiration into a vision, to see a need in their community and to then turn that vision into action.

In doing so, she took an entrepreneurial route toward a solution to a longstanding problem: her kids, like millions of other children of color, don’t often enough see themselves reflected in the type of products that Brown Boy Brown Girl makes.

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“I wanted to see if it was something my kids and I could do together while trying to make an impact,” said Baker, the founder and CEO of the homegrown Kalamazoo multimedia publishing company. “I also wanted to provide a skill set that I didn’t necessarily have which is entrepreneurship.”

Seven years later, her impact is poised to get much bigger.

Teresa Baker holds two notebooks titled "reach for the stars"
Teresa Baker holds the notebooks sold by all Meijer stores starting January 2022. Ben Lando | NowKalamazoo

Her “Reach for the Stars!” notebooks have been in 69 Meijer stores since Nov. 20 and she says starting next month they will be in all 260 Meijer stores in the country.

It began with their website, which also provides support to and sells books by other independently published authors and illustrators of color – with a focus on young creators. It is now a business gearing up to put more of those creations into the market and in front of young learners.

Meijer is great visibility for their products, Baker said, but the impact she hopes to have extends beyond a successful business lesson to her three kids.

“I wanted to somehow portray a different narrative regarding Brown children,” Baker said. “Books should serve as mirrors and windows, and that’s how we try to approach each project we are doing now writing, because children should see themselves in the world around them.”

Baker has promoted her books and notebooks featuring children of color to encourage book smarts, financial literacy, and empowerment.

She established an annual Junior CEO Business Fair and Conference, the first of which took place in October. Baker is planning the second conference, which will include workshops for parents as well as their young entrepreneurs, with topics such as establishing an LLC and trademarking products.

Baker’s kids are part of her business still, providing creative ideas and packing orders to send out. They’re also “front and center” at shows where the kids are managing transactions in order to learn customer service skills.

When they saw the products in Meijer, where Baker remembers shopping for notepads as a child herself, “they had big grins on their faces.”

Brown Boy Brown Girl will release more notebooks and a line of two-pocket folders with Meijer for the 2022-2023 school year, expanding to other large stores as well as local shops.

“Local partnerships are also very very important because it helps to sustain the community they’re in,” Baker said.

This week, the company releases the book Friendship for a Lifetime, written by two young girls with the help of their parents. Baker is now working on the regulatory testing of a doll to accompany a re-release of her 2017 debut book, Josie’s Bedazzled Shoes.

Teresa Baker with a doll and a book titled "Josie's Bedazzled Shoes"
Teresa Baker holds the “Josie” doll, based on her first book, which is about to start commercial testing. Ben Lando | NowKalamazoo

Illustrator Brittany Jackson, known for Parker Looks Up, is illustrating Baker’s forthcoming Look, Daddy, Look, for which her husband and son are the inspiration.

“This is a special one for me because this will be our first brown boy character and we really celebrate fatherhood and Black boy joy,” she said.

Baker also wrote the forthcoming Becoming Me, inspired by Michelle Obama, featuring a Brown girl thinking about what she may or may not become when she is older.

The business line of books, school supplies, and accompanying products may be a long time coming, but it’s of particular timeliness right now for her target audience.

“I want to provide a legacy for my children but also to make a positive impact on children that look like my children,” she said. “As well as make sure that other children outside of the ethnicity see Brown children as not threatening.”

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