Children gather support and form identities from the people around them in their young lives. One of the most important circles providing value to children is the circle of family. Family life is where children develop the tools and training to deal with real-life situations inside the realm of community. Additionally, kids have many different role models or influencers outside the family that deeply affect their future lives, goals, discoveries and inspirations. For local author and poet, Tacardra Rountree, those influencers came not only from her loving family, but she was given “deep dream tissue” for her aspirations as a writer from her elementary and high school teachers.

Rountree’s love for writing first started in the 2nd grade when one of her teachers introduced her to poetry. It was love at first reading. “I remember reading a poem entitled ‘Be the Best at Whatever You Are’ by Douglas Malloch and then having to memorize ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling’ in the 4th grade. Those experiences introduced me to the world of poetry,” says Rountree. A young student at Terrace Manor Elementary, Rountree says the power of having to stand in front of classmates and present a lengthy poem had lifelong meaning for her. “It was there in elementary school that reading aloud in front of an audience and sharing that love of poetry began for me,” she explained.

Years later as a junior at John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School, she was given a literature assignment to write a poem about herself beginning with the words “I am”. The assignment laid the foundation, unknowingly to her at the time, for the future idea of a children’s book. The first line of her poem read, “I am an African Queen.” The lines that followed became an affirmation of who she was and what kind of influence she could have one day in the world. Based on encouragement from a librarian at the Augusta Library, Rountree submitted the poem in a contest and it became featured in the Treasured Poems of America, fall edition, 1996. She then continued to share her poetry at readings through the Upward Bound program of Paine College and Bethel AME Church where she was an active member.

Rountree’s creative enjoyment and growing interest in writing forged a path and a four-year full ride in Early Childhood Education at Fort Valley State University as a Presidential Scholar. Later, in graduate school, Rountree started reviewing children’s books and literature. She came across “Honey, I Love and Other Love Poems” by Eloise Greenfield. She remembers the moment something inside of her clicked. “When I discovered the picture book of ‘Honey I Love’ I knew right away what I had to do. I knew I wanted to turn ‘I am an African Queen’ into a children’s illustration book.” For Rountree, the task of writing the book was the easiest next step since she already had the content in the form of her poem. But what she lacked was a good illustrator and a catchy title.

The next step circled her back to her past. Rountree remembered Audrey “Sala Adenike” Jeter-Allen as someone in the Augusta dance community. Jeter-Allen has even choreographed pieces for Davidson students. The two had also been vendors at the same event where Rountree was selling her first book and Jeter-Allen was selling her artwork. “When I saw her artwork and the African motifs and colors she used I thought they would represent the girls and women I wanted to capture for the book,” explains Rountree. Jeter-Allen agreed to create one-of-a-kind illustrations that mirrored the world of young women and girls at the center of Rountree’s literary work.

The last piece of the adventure arrived from a serendipitous meeting with a passer-by outside the Mann-Simons Site in Columbia, South Carolina, in February 2018. While Rountree read an informational marker for the historic site, a gentleman walked past and said, “Hello Queen.” Responding to his salutation, Rountree recognized the title of her first children’s book: Hello Queen. She explains that the chance remark had roots in a larger life application. “Always answer to what you’d like to be called. The gentleman called me ‘Queen’ and I answered to that. He confirmed what I already knew—that I am intelligent, beautiful, determined,” says Rountree. Her second book, Hello Queen, is an invitation for young girls to believe in their worth and valued position in the world and to realize they are “queens in a world of other queens.” Rountree appreciates and recognizes the dignified women in her own life that encouraged her writing and creativity from a tender age such as her mother and grandmother. “Queens are the everyday people around us. They don’t have to be someone in a faraway country. They are our mothers, our lawyers, our doctors, our teachers. They are the ones who inspire us, encourage us, and empower us on an everyday basis,” affirms Rountree. “There is a queen in each of us, regardless of age, color or profession.”

by Tacardra Rountree

The time is up for playing around.
Now it is time for me to stand my ground.
It is time for me to stand out from the rest,
By showing that I can do my very B-E-S-T, Best!
Yesterday is of the past and tomorrow may be too late. So I will choose Now on this very date.
I choose to be different, honest, and wise. I choose to shine like the stars in the skies.
I choose to give others a hand up when they are in need. For I know the importance of doing good deeds.
I choose to be respectful and kind. Because if I’m not, I will get left behind.
I have the power to decide,
For the Time is Now and the Choice is Mine!

Copyright © 2013 by Tacardra Rountree