‘The Storyteller is a Pathway to Healing’: Meet Trix’s 2021 Rising Woman of the Year

author : Carly Schwartz

Here at Trix, it’s our mission to use the power of storytelling, positive role models, and education to advance the quality of women’s lives around the world.

Three years into our journey, we’ve created our first Rising Woman award dedicated to one heroine whose life work elevates  underrepresented voices and inspires the next generation. Meet our 2021 Rising Woman Grantee, Dara Beevas. Dara is founder of Wise Ink, a platform to help emerging thought leaders to enter and succeed in the publishing industry, and author of upcoming children’s book series Li’l Queens that teaches kids the history of real-life Black and Brown queens. 

Dara Beevas is obsessed with queens. For years, she had an encyclopedia on her bookshelf featuring Black and African queens throughout history, and she frequently pores through biographies of leaders like Queen Victoria and Catherine the Great.

“Contrary to popular belief, it’s not a dainty job,” she says. “Your head is on the line most of the time. Their identity is not attached to men—there are smart queens, magical queens, wise queens.”

The mother of a four-year-old daughter, Dara knows firsthand that her love of royalty extends to the younger generations (“Disney has done its job!” she says with a laugh). Observing her daughter’s admiration for animated Majesties, she’s created a new children’s book series about Black and African queens. Each book features the life and times of a lesser-known woman from history, from a 16th century Nigerian warrioress to a Jamaican queen who used mysticism to defeat slave owners.

“I want girls to know that princesses come in all shapes and sizes,” she says. “They don’t sit in a palace; it’s not about their ball gowns. Women are fierce leaders who shape civilizations.”

I want girls to know that princesses come in all shapes and sizes. They don’t sit in a palace; it’s not about their ball gowns. Women are fierce leaders who shape civilizations.

Dara’s Minneapolis-based publishing company, Wise Ink, provides a platform for budding authors with important stories that may otherwise go untold. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, which rocked her city to the core, Wise Ink created a reparations program in which they fund the publication of books by Black authors. She recently shared more with us about why she believes stories can heal and directly shape a more equitable future.

Wise Ink’s nonprofit arm, Our Voices Matter, has always supported Black writers. During the protests this past summer, you launched a new initiative that completely covers the costs of publishing books by underrepresented authors. What inspired this effort?

After George Floyd was murdered, we needed to take things a step further. Our city is still hemorrhaging from this. But I strongly believe that the Twin Cities can serve as a model on how to enact change and prevent these horrible police murders from happening again and again. A lot of people were surprised about George Floyd, but my Black friends and I were like, “it’s hard, but it’s not surprising.” Books are one of the ways in which we can change this narrative. The storyteller is a pathway to healing. Wise Ink needs to be part of the healing that happens.

Tell us more about one of those storytellers.

One of my favorite social justice warriors, Dr. Joi Lewis, hosts meditation circles. She just launched a huge citywide program called Day of Reckoning that brings these practices to communities as a means to heal and move forward. She’s an expert on using social justice as a form of healing. What if she had a children’s book that became part of the elementary school curriculum? Or a practitioners’ guide to train other healers? We want to help people like her to continue the important work they’re already doing.

Thought leaders like Ta-Nehisi Coates and Nikole Hannah-Jones have specifically called for reparations as a way to move forward from a long history of injustice. You refer to Wise Ink’s program as a form of reparations. Why identify it this way?

When I think about George Floyd, I think about what we did immediately in the aftermath. We called in the protesters, the pastors, city council people. Many people who were called to pick up the pieces and address this unbearable grief are from Black communities already disproportionately affected by the pandemic. I would never want to suggest there weren’t white allies along the way, but the extra weight Black people are carrying has affected our mental and physical health. When I talk about reparations, it’s an inheritance owed to Black people for the services we have been doing for 400 years. And in this moment, we have to pay for the healing from atrocities still weighing on our communities. There’s a cost to achieve emotional wellbeing, spiritual health, and financial stability. How dare we not compensate them for what they are losing?

Have you seen other businesses following your lead?

I’m an eternal optimist; I believe the corporate community is stepping into this moment and doing things their way. In this uprising, this community raised in the tens of millions of dollars for goods and supplies. I know places like Target benefited from that. In the city where George Floyd was murdered, I hope local businesses like Target will model how reparations might look for the rest of the industry. Every company, big to small, should be thinking about how much of their resources can be redirected directly to Black and Indigenous communities. This can be achieved in many ways: office space, capital for starting businesses, internships, mentorships. That’s why Wise Ink also launched a fellowship in an effort to diversify the publishing industry.

You’re a firm believer that storytelling can be used to enact positive change. Why do you think that is?

I truly believe that stories can save lives. A story is a bridge. One of the easiest ways to understand someone is to ask them to tell you a personal life story. Because while all stories are different, all stories are also the same. When people tell me they have a story, I see their eyes light up, the light coming from within them. Stories allow us to connect to the light within someone. That light is universal.

As an eternal optimist, are you seeing any of this light during the challenging era we’re in?

I feel really empowered in this moment. So much of my joy comes from seeing and hearing creators express how creative they feel during this time of quarantine and social unrest. They feel even more called to step into their purposes. Even though I know we’re all exhausted, in the creative world, something special is happening. I’m excited to read, in ten or twenty years, what came out of this moment. We will look at this era and say it was a powerful shift that, even though it was painful, birthed something magical.