Race relations in America have reached a boiling point as the deaths of George Floyd and other countless Black Americans resparked the Black Lives Matter movement and an uptick in violence against Asian Americans has been linked to the COVID-19 pandemic and racist rhetoric from former President Donald Trump.
David Heredia wants to fight that violence with art and education.
Heredia is the Saugus resident behind the “Heroes of Color” animated series and the “Little Heroes of Color” children’s book, both of which highlight the contributions of people of color that are often overlooked in classrooms.
“Schools are really quick to talk about diversity and inclusion and saying those words, but you don’t see it included in the school curriculum,” Heredia said. “I wanted to create something to supplement that curriculum with a more cultural education. The best way to learn to respect people is to learn about them, and one of the first places they learn to do that is at school.”
The idea for “Heroes of Color” came to Heredia when he was trying to find comic books featuring Black heroes with his son, but was only able to find one: John Stewart, DC Comics’ first Black superhero and a Green Lantern. Heredia went home and searched for Black heroes on the internet and was surprised to find that most of the results were for historical figures, many of whom he had never heard of. He decided to use his skills as an animator to create a video series celebrating some of the figures that resonated with him including the Harlem Hellfighters, Dr. Antonia Pantoja and Dr. Ronald McNair. Currently four episodes have been released on YouTube and Vimeo, and Heredia recently won a grant to produce four more episodes that will release this year.
Heredia took the idea behind his animated series and created the “Little Heroes of Color” book to teach similar material to a younger audience, believing that children have fewer prejudices and are more willing to accept his message than adults or even older students.
“The book really changed my objective because I became much more focused on education and aware of who needed it,” Heredia said. “Originally, the video series was for junior high school kids, but elementary schools were the ones who were really gravitating towards it.”
Though the animated series was treated with ambivalence by viewers who, according to Heredia, either loved the message of black pride or felt uncomfortable about it, the book has received almost universal praise and has been featured on Parents Magazine, “The Today Show” and “Good Morning America.”
Recently Heredia has transitioned from creating material behind the scenes to taking an active role in teaching, leading diversity workshops with Los Angeles Unified School District, the School of Visual Arts in New York and even with companies like Disney. After seeing one woman lead a diversity workshop and using his book as one of her tools, Heredia felt inspired to do the same and has already led 15 workshops so far in 2021.
“Teaching diversity can impact a child’s life because you’re giving that child a sense of worth and confidence,” Heredia said. “Kids are telling me how much they love my material and how much they’ve learned, and they are my target audience so that just tells me I need to keep going and not worry about the insecurities that adults have about being ‘forced’ to talk about these topics.”
Even in the light of the increase in racially motivated violence, not everyone shares Heredia’s enthusiasm for diversity education. At Rep. Mike Garcia’s (R-Santa Clarita) telephone town hall with Santa Clarita voters in March, a caller expressed her disdain for diversity education in Santa Clarita schools. However, Heredia believes this to simply be a reflection of people’s fear and insecurity.
“It’s a fear of learning that people who have been historically oppressed might be more qualified than you,” he said. “It’s not about your language or how you look or the food that you eat. Historically in this country people have been kept down so if all of a sudden they’re above, some people aren’t ready to handle that. Why else would people not want to learn about their neighbors?”
Heredia said it may be difficult for white educators or people who do not come from specific ethnic or cultural backgrounds to effectively teach about diversity. However he believes that there are plenty of resources from authentic sources that educators can use, especially in the internet age.
“As an educator, it’s okay if you don’t know everything,” Heredia said. “Reach out to someone of that culture that you respect and ask them to participate in the lesson. Libraries are a great resource that anyone can use. It all goes back to having honest conversations where we listen and learn, not just react.”
Heredia’s work can be seen at heroesofcolor.com. Learn more about Heredia’s upcoming “Art & Activism Convention ’21” on his website.