Sulma Arzu-Brown is a proud Garifuna woman born in Honduras, Central America. The Garifuna people are the Black Caribs living in the coastland of Central America. She came to New York City at the tender age of six. Throughout her life, Sulma’s parents instilled in her the belief that progressive thinking, education and sound values were the key to success in one’s personal and professional life. Holding steadfast to those values, Sulma received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Herbert Lehman College of the City University of New York. Sulma took those teachings a step further when she became a mother by becoming one with her essence and growing out her natural hair.
She is the author of Bad Hair Does Not Exist/Pelo Malo No Existe, a story of self-love and acceptance inspired by her desire to encourage her two daughters to love their natural hair. Learn more about her inspiration, here. She has also written My Best Friend Likes Boys More Than Me/Mi Mejor Amiga Piensa en Chicos Mas Que Yo,” intended for parents like herself to talk about the normalcy getting bit by the “boy crazy bug” with their children – with the main idea of prioritizing education.
Sulma has been featured on Anthony Bourdain’s CNN show, “Parts Unknown” and has appeared on Telemundo 47 – Primera Edición, and News 12 Bronx, among other news outlets.
We were honored to invite Sulma to participate in our Believe in Books interview series. Here is what she had to say.
Which books are among your childhood favorites?
I have to say my favorite books are those with lessons that followed me even through my adult years. I find myself saying things like “you know what happens when you build your home from straw” or “build a solid foundation or anyone can huff and puff and blow your house down.” I mean come on, The Three Little Pigs – a true classic!
I even have Swarovski crystal piggies as decor!
Little Red Riding Hood is another one. It’s helped me be aware of “wolves in sheep’s clothing” and that not everyone who calls themselves a friend is.
These lessons keep me praying for the spirit of discernment and wisdom. I can’t afford for the big bad wolf to take me down. My husband, my children and my community need me. Now that I think about it, I need me too!
What are your favorite titles of today?
There are so many good books out there. Among my favorite are those that empower my two girls by showing images that look like them.
Somos Garinagu by Isidra Sabio teaches my children about their Garifuna Culture and Briana’s Neighborhood by Sahar Simmons about a little girl who loves her Brooklyn neighborhood and remains true to it. I also love my own book for the same reason: Bad Hair Does Not Exist/Pelo Malo No Existe. It’s about cultural solidarity through hair with illustrations focused on love, friendship, success and community. The book is what I consider an ordained body of work that has empowered and touched the lives of girls of all ages and backgrounds. It came because I wanted a book that would teach my girls (Suleni Tisani and Bella-Victoria) to look out for one another and respect the beautiful and unique difference of every culture.
What’s your favorite childhood? reading memory — whether of reading to yourself, or of someone who read to you, or something you imagined?
Storytime and reading was my way of bonding with my dad. The best stories were the ones he made up and would tell over and over again. He tailored his recommendations based on my seasons. When I was a teen, it was more poetry especially love poems. It was his way of talking about relationships. When I was experimenting with the world, it was song lyrics such as a Wild World by Cat Stevens. My father/daughter song at my wedding “To Sir with Love” by Lulu because it was the lyrics my dad and I shared and discussed. Reading is still our way of bonding, but now he reads the books I’ve written and helps me edit the Spanish versions.
What was your biggest idea or inspiration that came from reading?
There was a time in my life when I was in search of my identity and culture. I was born in Honduras and came here at the age of six. As a Garifuna person (black carib) who only spoke Spanish and a language no one else had ever heard of, it was challenging for me to be me. So I put myself a side and for years. I was what everyone else wanted me to be. It wasn’t until I met my mentor and Garifuna History Guru Jose Avila who gave me articles and British archives about my people and my history, it changed my life! It was the inspiration needed to start a youth leadership group in my community to teach others about their history. Those “others” even included my parents, my husband who is Jamaican Canadian, my friends and now the world. I take this proud Garifuna women I’ve become everywhere I go. Knowing who you are is so powerful. It made me whole!
What is your favorite word?
My favorite word is “Great.” I love waking up by telling everyone “Great Morning.” It just sets an amazing positive energy for the day.
If you were going to be anything other than a writer, what would you be?
I would be a dancer. And trust me it all comes down to lyrics, to the words. The added value would be that I would be able to take the words of songs and use my body to express all the emotions the lyrics represented. I would have then choreographed and eventually wrote some songs. My life would still be about writing stories after all. It’s inevitable.