Interested in starting your own journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Ssanyu Lukoma, Founder of Brown Kids Read, located in Matawan, NJ, USA.

What's your organization, and who are your members?

Brown Kids Read is a non-profit organization dedicated to motivating all children, especially children of color, to read more diverse literature! We want to get various books into the hands of young readers. Still, ultimately, our customers are parents who wish to provide their children with a wide variety of books.

Tell us about yourself

Books are mirrors and windows. Mirror books are stories where you relate to the main character, whether through race, ethnicity, religion, location, etc., and window books are the opposite. Window books allow readers to step into another person's shoes and witness the world through new eyes.

In 2017, I had a conversation with my friend, let's call him Carlos, and he explained to me why he did not like to read. His primary reasoning stemmed from his experience as a student in our school district -- he felt that no books were presented to him that featured Puerto Rican boys like him. Unfortunately, I knew that Carlos' story was not unique to him: it's a problem that spreads a sea of children who do not have access to diverse books. So, I made it my mission to change this.

In 2018, at age 13, I partnered with two other authors who were planning an event at a local Barnes and Noble, and we named the event Brown Kids Read! This event featured author book signings, storytimes, a large, diverse book display, and much more. I had never seen so many young readers excited about books, so Brown Kids Read was my way of sharing that joy across the nation. In December 2018, Brown Kids Read became an official 501c3, and we were off to change the world!

I am motivated each day by knowing that I have and will continue to put window and mirror books into the hands of young readers. As a teenager, I know that doing this work also makes me a role model to other kids who want to become literacy advocates.

What's your biggest accomplishment as an organization?

My biggest accomplishment is publishing my children's picture book, Suubi's Sunny Smile! This book features three main themes: dental hygiene, cultural appreciation, and, most importantly -- anti-bullying. I have sold over 500 copies of Suubi's Sunny Smile, over 600 young readers have attended Suubi's Sunny Smile storytimes, and it continues to impact youth globally.

What's one of the hardest things that come with being an organization?

I am a senior in high school, and it is tough to balance Brown Kids Read, Suubi's Sunny Smile, my publishing company, Share a Smile Books, basketball, schoolwork, public speaking, and my nine other extracurricular activities.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow an organization today?

  1. Never be afraid to sell yourself. Nobody is going to be more passionate about your product than you! I always carry a copy of Suubi's Sunny Smile if I meet a potential customer. Some may think this is weird, but I have made MANY sales this way and will continue to do so! Be your own most prominent advocate.
  2. Remember to rest! Overworking yourself reduces the quality of your product, and eventually, you will be doing yourself and your customers a disservice.
  3. Many, many MANY, people will say no to you. That is just reality! However, never let those discourage you from your mission. For every 100 no's, there are always a few yes'.

Where can people find you and your business?


If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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