Client Spotlight: Christine Aldrich, Author of Braiding Crowns of Friendship
Author of Braiding Crowns of Friendship, Christine Aldrich shares with us how she brought her book to life among the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement in January 2021. Her book works to further the public conversation about race, relationships, and what we can learn from one another. Also a teacher, Christine finds synergy in the goal of sharing her story and educating each other about ourselves. Find some helpful insights about both life and business in our interview.
How did you decide to write Braiding Crowns of Friendship?
With COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter, a lot of things were going on in January 2021 when I decided to sit down and write my book. My friend Sharon Gordon told me for years that I should write a children’s book about me and the adventures of my real-life best friend, Dushanthie Jayamaha and I just never took it seriously until COVID-19.
When I think about my life, I want to make sure I’m giving back. All the things that were going on during the pandemic were dear to my heart, especially with Black Lives Matter. I decided to really get serious and do something about it, and that’s where this book came from.
How are you able to put yourself in other people’s shoes?
I think being African American in a predominantly white environment kind of opens you up to being different and unique. I’ve always said, I don’t have a problem with people wanting to touch my hair, or trying to educate people, because I think a lot of people just don’t know any different.
That’s what I really wanted to get across in my book. I just don’t think people know any different than what they’ve been exposed to. It’s important to educate people about other races, cultures, and the differences that do exist in our world today. There are so many. I think people put people into a certain category. That’s really what’s wrong with our society today. There is no right; there is no wrong. There are just people who are different.
Did you have a personal drive to get a specific story out? What was it like to write a book for the first time?
During the pandemic, I was either working a lot or watching TV, but I felt a seriousness about being in a pandemic. Who would have ever thought in our lifetime that we would be in a pandemic? When I sat down to write my story, I never would have thought I would be a children’s author. It was not something that I thought would happen. My friend had given me the idea years ago, but I never took it seriously.
There was something about the pandemic, about the state of the world, that made me take it seriously. I sat down, and it took me about 30 minutes to actually write the book. Once I had it written down, the next step was getting a publisher, an illustrator, and an editor.
I went to Facebook; it’s amazing all the things you can get there. I had friends connect me with other authors, so I could talk to them and get recommendations about how to move forward. Then, my friend Dinuka said, “I have a friend. Her name is Pashmina. She’s in Thailand, and she does all those things in one.”
As a working person who puts in 40-60 hours a week at my regular job, I knew it was important that my editor, my agent, and my illustrator were all in one. I was able to give Pashmina P. and her team my manuscript, and she was able to put everything into what you see, the book and the characters. My illustrator is 18 years old now. He was 17 when he did the book. It was amazing. My editor, Charlotte, came up with the title, Braiding Crowns of Friendship. I would never have thought of that. It was really a team effort in getting the book together. I saw what I had spent only 30 minutes doing come out to be such a beautiful story which is really, truly what it is.
Is there something that you didn’t know at the beginning of this journey, that would have made it easier if you had known it then?
Definitely. There’s so much difference between being an author versus being in education. How do you market a book once it’s done? Pashmina P. and her team did a great job in getting me the book, but then I asked, “What do I do next?”
Thank goodness for VaVa Virtual Assistants! I got the assistance of Lindsay, and she started posting on Facebook, the business page, and then to Instagram. Now, we’re on LinkedIn. She started to put together things I didn’t know about. When you’re in this business, you just don’t know what are the next steps or who to trust.
I would tell anybody who’s trying to be an author to make sure you do your research. Make sure you find a good support team and that you get a lot of your questions answered before you start, so you know where to go. For me, I had no idea.
VaVa Virtual Assistants has really been an inspiration for me. Working with Lindsay and now Reilyn has helped get me going. It’s just been an amazing journey meeting people who are able to help support me in a way that I didn’t even have knowledge of.
Tell us about your position with the Extended Opportunity Programs and Services Program at Compton College.
I have the privilege of being the Director of the Extended Opportunity Programs & Services (EOPS/CARE) at Compton College. It’s a program for low-income students at the community college level. We connect students with counseling services including personal, academic, and career services.
We also link them up with book vouchers. Basically, we provide them with support services to help them through their educational journey at Compton College. I’ve been doing that for almost seven t years now. It’s been an amazing journey.
What are the changes you faced working a full-time job and marketing your new book at the same time?
It’s time management, number one. You have to balance your time. You have to have time for yourself while balancing a business and your regular job. I try to give myself an hour a day to work on my book stuff. Sometimes, if I have a long day at my regular job, then I give myself permission not to do it. The good thing is that even if I’m not able to do it, I have Lindsay doing stuff and Reilyn helping me. Now, with another assistant on the team, I’m going to have a little bit more time for myself, which is what I’ve been trying to balance. It is a lot of work.
If you want to get yourself out there, that means you have to post on Instagram. Now, I’m lucky that I know how to do it myself. I can post myself, so that makes me feel good. Lindsay doesn’t always have to do it; I can, too. But, it’s important to have balance in everything that you’re doing from your regular job to the other.
This job, being an author, being a children’s author, Braiding Crowns of Friendship, is a privilege and my passion. I love this. I love educating people. I love making little girls who look like me, or maybe that look different, embrace a story that is about them. That’s really what it’s all about. Just because you have different hair, doesn’t mean that you’re not to be loved, not to be valued, or not to have a voice in our society.
What do you love about being an author?
There have been so many moments that felt right. When I first launched my book in August 2021, I had so much support from family and friends. I told people, “When you buy the book, post it on Facebook.” And they did, from little kids to adults. I have had a lot of adults that have told me, “I wish I had had this book when I was younger,” because they experienced a lot of the things that the young Christine character experiences, like being made fun of because of your hair.
I found out that it’s not just African American culture. It happens in other cultures as well. For example, Hispanic cultures might feel judged for their hair being too curly. I love being able to be that voice and to hear other people’s stories. When I talk to little kids, they say, “We didn’t like how the little blonde girl made fun of Christine’s hair.” I’ve heard the word “bullying.” I’ve heard different words used when that happens. What a lot of young kids brought up was how mean that little blonde girl was to Christine because her hair was different.
It was important for me to make the story not about race, but to make it more about the little blonde girl just not knowing any better. She’d just never seen anybody’s hair like Christine’s before, and that was really what it was about. In the story, it was really important for me, for the little blonde girl to say she was sorry. A lot of times, that’s what the issue is—just not being educated. For me, being in education, I’m all about educating people. Touch my hair, ask me whatever questions you want, because I want to make sure people have a better understanding of African American hair. Or get answers to whatever questions they might have. This book has not only resonated with little girls but also adult women. It’s definitely helping people to get past their pain.
Tell us something that you find challenging in your work.
Well, if anything, I’d love to have had more books sold. I haven’t yet. When I first started, my goal was to sell 2,000 books. I have sold 500. Wanting to get the message out there has really been my passion. When thinking about what I really want to do, I have decided it’s education, giving back, and making sure that young girls of color feel they have a voice, that they feel beautiful, and that they feel recognized. I may not have thousands of books sold, but as long as my book can make a difference to one person, then I know I’m doing the right thing.
For me, it’s not so much how many books I’ve sold, it’s about the message. I’m working on a coloring book for Braided Crowns of Friendship. I’m also working on a second book where Christine and the little blonde girl become friends. In the new book, the little blonde girl starts wearing her hair in braids and I introduce another character to the book. I just want to make sure I’m educating. If I get a platform where I can share and talk about black hair and women of color, then I feel like that’s where I’m supposed to be.
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?
Educate yourself. Do your research. Talk to other people who have done the type of work you want to get into. I was able to talk to other authors and get ideas and see how much it really costs to have a book. I think I did that really well. The part where I really needed to do better was what comes after the book was done. How do I market a book? I was not really prepared for that, but I think with VaVa Virtual Assistants, I’ve been able to get prepared because of the hard work that they’ve done.
When Pashmina said, “OK, we’re done. You’re ready to go,” I had no idea what that really meant. Well, that meant I needed to get on social media, get a Facebook page, and get myself out there. I can say that in the time that we have been doing it, we’ve been doing an amazing job. I’ve been able to read my book at an elementary school to over 600 elementary school kids.
The things that I’ve been able to do have been impactful. To have some of these 600 kids write me letters to say, “Thank you for reading your story,” those are the things that are priceless with this job. Having people wanting to read my book out loud and show it on Facebook or Youtube has been a privilege and an honor.
How has it been working with VaVa?
When getting a Virtual Assistant, you don’t know if the person will be your style or fit your personality—which was really important for me. When I’m working with people, I need to make sure they understand my personality and that I can understand theirs. I’ve been very blessed. Lindsay has been amazing. I think she gets me. She knows that I have another job, and I’m trying to do the best I can to juggle both. Reilyn is helping me to get more organized with my personal files and my business files because I just got an LLC— CMAldrich, LLC. I’m really trying to separate things so I can continue moving forward. I want to do some retail merchandise. I want to sell T-shirts. I’m trying to build the brand in other ways. I will be going to the Orange County Children’s Fair in October. I’m getting myself ready for that next step, getting business cards, and getting things together.
I think it’s always a little intimidating when you’re meeting people online, which is what VaVa does. Because I was working with Pashmina and the team for the book online, it wasn’t really that strange. It would always be nice to have an assistant that could actually come to your house and work with you, but Lindsay is all the way across the country. It’s definitely been different, figuring out time differences and trying to find time when I can meet with her while having a full-time job. It’s worked out.
I would tell anybody that is interested in a Virtual Assistant that it’s a good way to do business. It’s a different way of doing business. I actually got to meet the owners a couple of months ago at a dinner, and they’re just amazing. I would tell anyone to give VaVa a shot; they’re pretty good at matching you with people that either have the experience that you need or have maybe the personality style that you’re looking for. I always make sure I tell people what I’m looking for so they know and there’s no guessing about what I need to help me to get organized. I would highly recommend them. It’s been amazing. Anything I need, Lindsay is there. She is always helping me, and now Reilyn as well.
Tell us a fun fact about yourself.
I really enjoy spending time with family and friends. If I’m not working or doing my book stuff, I love spending time with them, going out to dinner or a movie, or just catching up with somebody. That’s always been fun. Especially with everything that’s been going on, it’s just so important now that we’re able to get back out there.
At Compton, we are trying to get students back to campus. We have to get back into a routine again. Who would have thought that we’d be able to set up the ESOP program like this? But we’ve done it. All the things that we thought we couldn’t do, we’ve done it. There’s nothing that we cannot do. There were a lot of things that were negative about the pandemic, but there were some positive things as well, especially with technology. We reached a whole new system that we probably wouldn’t have reached if not for the pandemic.
Find out more about Braiding Crowns of Friendship. Christine wants to make a difference to young girls and make sure they know that they are beautiful just the way they are “however they want to rock their hair, whether it’s braids, or straight, or curly or it’s afro-puffs. Just be who you are, and love your beautiful crown.”
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