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For Dominique Kizer, reading and writing were creative outlets and escapes when she was growing up in East Cleveland. But she, like many in her neighborhood, struggled to find adequate resources.
Books were in poor condition, families couldn't afford to pay for tutoring or extra help. Kizer and her peers had to "make it work" with what they had, leaning on the Shaw High School community for support.
“That’s where I am from," the 2009 graduate said. "We adapt, we survive. I am one of many that got through it and excelled.”
It impressed upon the author and teacher the importance of education materials for Black youth, specifically work that speaks to their experiences. And it was one of the motivations behind her first book, Kinky Hair, Don't Care, which began as a set of poems she wrote during the pandemic and features the struggles that young Black girls often face when dealing with their hair in its natural state.
“It’s for little brown girls who have trouble embracing their hair and skin,” she said. “Love thy fro and love thy skin."
Kizer, who studied at Ohio State and Case Western Reserve University, moved to New Orleans in June 2020 and landed a job at Langston Hughes Academy as a sixth grade English teacher. Working in the Orleans Parish, Kizer hopes to close equity and achievement gaps for at-risk students. After Hurricane Ida, the school closed down indefinitely and Kizer returned home to Ohio. She currently works at East Cleveland city schools as a lead linkage coordinator, helping at-risk students to graduate.
“Being with students everyday and listening to their stories made me want to keep coming back to help as much as I can,” she said. “Some would say that I was an at-risk student [when I was their age]. I want to be the person [for my students] that I needed back then.”
She recently released her second children’s book, The Kids in School are Really Cruel. After becoming an educator, Kizer witnessed countless acts of bullying in school settings. She wants to bring awareness to the issue. Kizers says she hopes that her writing encourages youth to be comfortable with and to stand up for themselves. She also wants to make parents and teachers aware of different signs of bullying and help prevent it.
Kizer also created an online business, Fro’s Get Chose, that focuses on Black hair texture. She says she recently ‘went natural' (meaning her hair does not have any chemical that alters its natural curl pattern) and got motivated to show others her progress with proper hair care.
“I tried to go natural three or four times and it was a complete disaster,” she said. “I finally said to myself, ‘Girl, just get with it.’ It’s OK to be you, and be into your culture and heritage. It’s OK if your hair is not straight.”
She advises youth to go out and "get it" for themselves.
“Nobody’s going to give it to you,” she said. “I had help, but I had to do it myself. I had to push myself and have that hunger and determination. People say that nothing good comes out of East Cleveland. Prove them wrong.”