2021 Visionaries to Watch: Jelani Memory, CEO & Founder of A Kids Company About
As a Black father to 6 children, CEO and Founder Jelani Memory sought to create books to help him and his wife have tough conversations with their kids.
He founded A Kids Company About, driven by his understanding that kids are ready to have meaningful discussions and parents need the tools to help guide them.
In 2021, Jelani Memory expanded his company to create more diverse content for kids, including subscription-based classes for teens and multiple podcasts.
Working in collaboration with diverse voices (Authors, Teachers, Hosts), putting forth their first-person narratives, Jelani’s company is changing what it means to be a kid for an entire generation.
Jelani Memory Interview
In what ways does A Kids Company About differ from other similar publishers and media resources for kids and youth?
Jelani Memory: We differ in many ways. First, we feature a diverse team and the creator sides with our podcasts, videos, and books. Additionally, we have a fast-to-market approach where instead of spending 18 months on getting a specific book title to market, we write our books in a single day via a workshop with our authors and get the book out within three months.
Lastly, we’re primarily direct-to-consumer. Having a relationship directly with our customers has allowed us to serve them better and understand what kinds of stories they want to hear.
Some parents might challenge the content of your books and say that they don’t want to expose their kids to those social themes too early. Why is it essential to talk to our kids about these more challenging conversations through the medium of your books?
Jelani Memory: Many parents feel it may be “too early,” but it’s often more likely to be too late in reality. Most parents like to believe they protect their kids by withholding information or keeping specific stories from them, but they’re often doing them more harm than good.
Kids need a safe person to talk with, ask questions, and parents need help with what to say and how to say it. Our books help make this conversation happen in a helpful way that provides both grownups and kids with what they need.
How has fatherhood helped you as an entrepreneur?
Jelani Memory: In so many ways, it’s hard to count. First, being a father is its own entrepreneurial journey. Kids are like a constant problem-solving exercise that at every stage presents new problems that you’ve never faced but have to try and solve.
Being a dad has also helped me be an entrepreneur by solving significant problems. The companies that I’ve started and raised venture capital for having been about solving problems specific to growing up and helping kids thrive. I wouldn’t be the entrepreneur that I am without my kids.
Stay Connected With Jelani Memory and A Kids Company About
Back in 2018, I wrote a book for my six kids titled A Kids Book About Racism. At the time, I had five kids (4 white and 1 brown) with a new little brown baby on the way.
Growing up as a black kid in the whitest city in America, it felt important that my kids not only know and understand what racism is but be able to talk about it openly. So I did what any dad would do, I wrote a book. Not so that we could start the conversation on Racism (we were already having it), but so that they always knew it was an open subject with me, their black dad.
I’m grateful that my kids, especially my white kids, feel comfortable asking, “Is this racist?” because they heard something at school that didn’t sit well with them.
And now here we are, some three years after I wrote that book. With my kids encouragement and a lot of help, I built a company around the idea that kids were ready to talk about the important stuff of life, and that books were sort of a magical way to open up those conversations.
Our company has now published over 50 books ranging from topics like Divorce, Optimism, Voting, Cancer, Shame, Racism, Gratitude, Empathy, and Being Non-Binary. We’ve sold hundreds of thousands of copies and more importantly started important conversations in homes, schools, classrooms, pillow forts, grandparent’s houses, and therapists’ offices all over the world.
But today marks a new chapter.
We’re going from kids “book” company to kids “media” company.
We are A Kids Company About
We’re making the leap from telling stories in books to 5-9 year-olds, to now telling stories through words, video, audio, and beyond for kids of all ages. To put it plainly, we’re a kids media company now. We thought it was worth a new name and a brand refresh so that no one got confused that maybe we still just made books. So, what are some of those new things we’re introducing to the world?
First, our kids podcast network: A Kids Podcast About.
I think we’re in a renaissance in audio for grownups. I mean have you listened to Nice White Parents?! So good! But kids audio has a lot of ground to cover to catch up. We want our network to be the destination for kids audio that matters.
Our shows feature diverse hosts and important topics like climate justice on 1 Point 5, or how to investigate facts on Is That True?, and activism on The Activators!, which is hosted by an 8-year-old by the way! We even launched a kids podcast summer camp called Camp Adventure where camp got to be in your living room, in your car on your way to the grocery store, and in your blanket fort in your room.
As of today, we have seven original shows, with three more to launch this year and many more to come next year, with additional seasons for existing shows.
Next is something we call A Kids Class About.
It’s a streaming platform for kids (10-15) to explore different Careers, Life Skills, and Big Ideas. Think masterclass for kids. Back in 2020 when our books were being purchased left and right, we continued to get the same refrain from parents and teachers: “Do you have anything for older kids?” And if we were being honest, we didn’t.
Our books were designed to start conversations early, but what about kids who are 13 going on 30? (They really do grow up that fast these days don’t they?). I have three teenagers myself and when I looked at them, I realized they needed something different.
A Kids Class About features diverse teachers, thinkers, professionals, creatives, and individuals who talk directly to the kid. With classes like Discovering Your Passion with speaker and katalyst Kevin Carroll, Living With Authenticity with stand-up comic JJ Barrows, and Being a Musician with singer Liz Vice, there’s something for your kids to enjoy learn, and take inspiration from.
This isn’t learning how to do math problems like Khan Academy or how to paint dogs on OutSchool. These classes tackle real social and emotional questions when it comes to who you are, what you love, where you’re going in life, and what it means to be “you”.
Broken up into bite-sized chapters around 3-5 minutes long, classes are each about 45 minutes to 1 hour long. Grownups sign the kid up and kids explore from there.
Our hope (because let’s be honest when it comes to teenagers everything is “hope”) is that the content resonates with young people and impacts them in the way our books do for younger kids.
On that note, we’re also unveiling our new vision to empower a generation of kids through diverse storytelling.
You see the thing about kids media these days is it basically has one goal: to entertain. That’s good and all, and I love toys that can talk as much as the next dad, but these can’t be the only kinds of stories kids hear, see, or read. Kids need entertainment, distraction, and fantasy… that’s true. But they also need to see themselves in the stories they interact with, and more importantly, they need to see their experiences.
Kids need a space where they learn how to understand and overcome what they face on a day-to-day basis.
Do any of you grownups out there watch your parents go through a divorce? How did that make you feel? Did anyone talk to you about it? Did you experience abuse as a kid? Anyone make sense of it to you? What about death? Did anyone die in your family? An aunt, uncle, best friend, grandparent? Or what about folks of color, did you ever get called the N-word as a kid? Do I even need to ask? Who helped you through it? What stories made sense of it? What did you need most when those things happened?
We’re here to tell stories that empower kids, hence our new tagline: “Made to Empower.” Empowerment isn’t all about slaying dragons. It can also be about learning to love yourself or love someone who doesn’t look, sound, think, or act like you. It can be about overcoming trauma, heck, even understanding what trauma is! It can be about finding your passion. It can be about just getting through the day. Kids are people, too. They have real experiences, thoughts, and ideas. We (grownups, that is) have to do away with “I’ll tell you when you’re older,”“You wouldn’t understand,”“We don’t talk about that,” or worst of all, “Grow up.”
Kids deserve better. And we can do better.
– Jelani Memory, Founder & CEO
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