Updated: Feb 16, 2022
If I asked you to conjure an image of a beekeeper in your mind, what would you picture?
Or maybe this?
To be honest, up until two years ago when my husband Quincy and I started raising honeybees, those were the same images I saw in my head when I pictured a beekeeper. The first time I actually saw, with my own eyes, a Black beekeeper in action, was the day I snapped some photos of Quincy in our apiary.
When searching the word “beekeeper” on the internet you will see thousands of images, but you will be hard pressed to find many images of Black beekeepers, let alone Black women beekeepers. When I searched Black beekeepers, instead of seeing content with people that looked like me, I was directed to topics like “black bees” or “Africanized bees,” …hardly what I was looking for. Just like so many things in our culture what we see or what we are exposed to in our own little bubble becomes our reality. If all I see is White people in beekeeping suits or as the main characters in books, naturally that is what I will presume to be “reality.”
As a teacher with over 30 years of experience, I have always loved learning. Before I start almost any project, I like to research and study before I get my hands dirty. Beekeeping has been no exception. Imagine my surprise when I started digging a bit further down the internet wormhole…I found that Black beekeepers do exist! Not only do they exist, but they are entomologists, conservationists, and successful business owners. I started following these beekeepers on Instagram, and I joined the African American Beekeepers Group on Facebook that is over 1600 members strong. My reality was shifting. I was now keeping in touch with Black beekeepers all over the country. Around this same time, I started collecting bee related children’s books. (I’m a teacher, that’s what we do!) I was happy when I came across a children’s book about bees. I was elated when I stumbled across a bee book with a Black main character.
What I have not seen however, is a great deal of minority representation in children’s literature about bees and beekeeping. How do we “update” or shift the beekeeping narrative for kids? The short answer is…exposure. Kids need to see themselves reflected in books and media doing things that they would not normally experience. It is my quest, through writing, to allow little brown boys and girls to see themselves represented in children’s books. It is my duty to “update” the perspective of all little boys and girls to see that beekeepers throughout history have been and still are Black and Brown people. I’ve searched through the bookstores of many reputable online beekeeping supply companies and in their catalogs, and they don’t sell a single children’s book featuring a Black main character. Yet another reason why many people don’t think beekeepers are Black. I want to change that!
A Reality Check
I spent over a year researching and learning about honeybees before becoming an actual beekeeper. My husband and I took an introduction to beekeeping course and joined our local beekeeping association. We took a few online courses and bought every book and magazine we could get our hands on. I was constantly reading and studying everything I could get my hands on. I learned of the accomplishments of people like Langstroth, Warre, and Dadant.
What I didn’t learn through any of that coursework was…not only do Black beekeepers exist today, but the art of beekeeping has been present within Africa for over 9,000 years.
Do you know what that means? Black and Brown people have been at the core of beekeeping from the beginning…Beekeeping History is Black History.
And so, this year, to celebrate Black History Month, I created a shareable Instagram post that includes some of the things I have learned while doing my research on bees and beekeeping.
While I knew of many of the accomplishments of Benjamin Banneker, George Washington Carver, and Booker T. Washington throughout history, I had no idea they were beekeepers.
It is not lost on me that in 2019, entomologist, Dr. Samuel Ramsey was the first person to discover that Varroa Mites feasted on the fat
bodies of honeybees exactly 100 years after Dr. Charles Henry Turner published over 70 articles related to bees. He was the first person that discovered that bees could see color and recognize patterns.
I am equally as proud of present-day folks like, Carole Wright (Twitter @Blak_Outside), Samantha Fox (www.mothersfinesturbanfarms.com) and Nicole Lindsey and Timothy Paul of Detroit Hives (www.detroithives.org). These conservationists and business owners are using their platforms to spread the word about the importance of honeybees to our entire world. They are also rewiring the minds of our young people to see career opportunities and ways to help the planet that were not a part of their reality before.
Now, I’m writing children’s books so that Black families have the representation they deserve. In an interview in AP News, illustrator Nina Crews said, “When you see yourself reflected in the pages of a book, you’re part of the conversation, part of the story. You’re not ignored. It gives you a sense of ownership to the world that you’re in. Every child deserves that.” (Racial diversity in children’s books grows, but slowly, by C. Fernando, March 2021)
I want my grandson Sage and other children like him not just reading stories but being a part of the stories. Without seeing Black characters in books and learning about the true history of beekeeping, so many families, so many children are missing out on a rich piece of their heritage.
My new book, Bugzee and the Bees, illustrated by Tyrus Goshay (www.tgosketch.com), and future books aim to “update” the narrative. My book is based in part on my real-life, four generational family.
In the story…
Lolli and Pops are teaching their grandson Bugzee the importance of raising honeybees, but no one in the family will let him near the apiary without a beekeeping suit. One ordinary day in the family’s backyard garden turns into the best day of Bugzee’s life.
My plan is to launch a Kickstarter campaign in the summer of 2022 to help raise funds to get this important book into the hands of as many children as possible. If you would like to be updated about the progress of my book, Bugzee and the Bees by Nocola Williams, please complete the form below to sign up for updates)