Cathie Wright-Lewis and daughter Cheyenne Lewis created ‘Mama Relly,’ a children’s book that teaches history, drawing stories from their own family’s slave narratives
Educator Cathie Wright-Lewis saw that her classroom of predominantly African-American students was not really connecting to narratives in the stories she read in class. So Wright-Lewis decided to write stories of her own.
For 20 years, Wright-Lewis, a native of Brownsville, worked for the New York City Board of Education teaching grammar school English and then worked ten more years as a mentor and UFT Teacher Center facilitator before retiring in 2013.
Her daughter, Cheyenne Lewis, 27, is Wright-Lewis’s business partner who illustrates for her mother’s growing collection of children’s stories.
“Cheyenne started to draw from the time she was really young,” she said. “So I couldn’t wait for her to graduate from college,” shared Wright.
“Mama Relly” is the first children’s book, published in 2016, by the mother-daughter team. The authors combine science-fiction with two slave narratives; one of an escaped slave, based on Lewis’ own great-grandmother, the second with “The Night the Stars Fell in 1833,” as retold by Linda Emlen. “I feel [“Mama Relly”] is a universal story . . . our history is everywhere and, unfortunately, a lot of other people know our history better than we do,” Wright said.
The Afro-Manga Japanimation-inspired illustrations used in “Mama Relly” were created by Cheyenne: “I knocked that out in a week,” she said. Having completed her undergraduate studies, Cheyenne now looks forward to creating her own Manga-Japanimation series and already has taught anime at the Smithsonian Institute.
“I’m starting my career as an artist but I’ve also been a teaching artist as well,” said Cheyenne. “It has been a very enriching experience so far, I only hope to grow as an artist.”
This mother-daughter duo also has created a business, Lit-for-Life and Learning Language, for young people who struggle to read. “‘Using ‘Mama Relly’ as a tool, we teach high school students how to be better readers,” said the elder Wright. “They, in turn, teach third and fourth graders, who are struggling readers, the skills they have learned. It reinforces their skills and it connects them to younger students . . . and the kids love the story because it’s about culture; it’s about ancestors and it’s about us, that’s what we do!” said Wright.
The “Mama Relly” series currently is being translated for use in Cuba and Japan. “I think it’s very important for people to understand African-American history, what our people have gone through, and what our ancestors have been through,” said Wright-Lewis.
“Mama Relly” sells for $15, “Mama Relly Lessons” (the coloring book) for $7.00.
Books are available locally at the Brownsville Heritage House, online with Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble on demand.