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    How married actors Jazmyn Simon and Dulé Hill were inspired to write a children’s book
    • July 3, 2023

    When her daughter Kennedy was young, Jazmyn Simon would say affirmations with the child each day in hopes it would help develop her confidence and self-esteem.

    “I thought, ‘Well, this seems like it would be great for a young woman to know all the wonderful things about herself,” Simon says. “So let’s start now. And so every single day, before she got out of my car at school, we would do this set of affirmations.”

    A decade later in the tumultuous summer of 2020, the pandemic and protests for racial justice were inescapable. Simon was now married to fellow actor Dulé Hill, who had adopted Kennedy, 15 at that time, and together they had 1-year-old son Levi.

    Actors Dulé Hill and Jazmyn Simon recently published a children’s picture book inspired by affirmations they used with their children Kennedy and Levi Hill. Seen here, left to right, are Hill, Simon, Kennedy Hill, and Levi Dulé Hill at Disney On Ice at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Dec. 18, 2021. (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Feld Entertainment)

    Married actors Dulé Hill and Jazmyn Simon, seen here at the HBO Post Emmy Awards Reception in Los Angeles on Sept. 22, 2019, recently cowrote a children’s picture book, “Repeat After Me.” (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)

    Married actors Dulé Hill and Jazmyn Simon recently cowrote a children’s picture book, “Repeat After Me.” (Book art courtesy of Random House Children’s Books)

    Married actors Dulé Hill and Jazmyn Simon recently cowrote a children’s picture book, “Repeat After Me.” (Book art courtesy of Random House Children’s Books, Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)



    “We were in a really dark place in our world and in our country,” says Simon, who is best known for her work on TV series such as “Ballers,” “Psych,” and “Raising Dion.” “It came to watching George Floyd get murdered over and over on TV. Our son was in my lap and I thought, ‘He can’t really articulate his thoughts yet, I wonder what he’s thinking by seeing this.

    “So one, let’s cut off the TV off; and two, let’s ask Kennedy how she’s feeling about everything,” she continues. “She said, ‘I’m fine,’ and her dad said, ‘Well, fine’s not a feeling, so how are you feeling?’ She burst into tears and we have this really emotional conversation.”

    Simon realized that even when kids seem outwardly fine they might not be. Especially in times like these.

    “I turned to Dulé and said, “I don’t want people to see the worst of themselves when they see TV and believe that’s who they are,’” Simon says. “For young Black people, you saw George Floyd getting murdered. For young White people, you saw a White man killing a Black person on TV. It’s a two-sided coin and I didn’t want them to think that that was them.

    “So I said, ‘We need to write a book to remind kids that they are the best of themselves and not the worst that they see on TV,” Simon says. “I ran to our junk drawer and I took out – and I’m not joking – I took out a yellow sticky notepad and a pen and I said ‘Let’s write a book.’

    “And that’s how it all began.”

    The book, “Repeat After Me: Big Things to Say Every Day,” is out now with words by Simon and Hill and illustrations by Shamar Knight-Justice. Simon and Hill will appear at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena for a special storytime book event at 11 a.m. Sunday, July 9.

    Positively powerful

    Hill, who currently stars on “The Wonder Years” and previously enjoyed long runs on “The West Wing” and “Psyche,” says he’s used to his wife coming up with an idea and jumping into action.

    “I probably was in shock at the audacity of the statement,” he says. “But knowing Jazmyn, it wasn’t surprising to me, because when she sets her mind to do something she gets it done. For myself, I said, ‘OK,’ and went along for the ride. ‘This what we’re doing, so here we go.’”

    Both Hill and Simon laugh – “That’s exactly what he said,” she adds – before he continues.

    “I say this often – it’s very easy for me to become a partner to Jazmyn Simon because she’s a wonderful writer,” Hill says. “All I have to do is say, ‘You know what, baby, I think you’re missing a period there. I think we need a comma. I don’t know if that rhymes as well as it could. Why don’t ‘we’ go back and revisit that.’”

    Simon remembered many of the affirmations she’d used with Kennedy when she was a child. Now those were workshopped on Levi, and still are used with him today, to see which would best be used in the children’s book.

    “If he’s feeling nervous about something, we’ll start with ‘I am brave’ or ‘I am courageous,’” she says of their son, who turned 4 this spring. “In the same way with Kennedy, ones we always used were, ‘We’re loved, worthy, ready.’”

    The book, as with their at-home affirmations, avoids physical attributes and other subjective terms.

    “We don’t want anybody to feel like their self-worth was determined, like ‘I am pretty’ or ‘I am beautiful’ or things like that,” Simon says. “Anything subjective, we tried to take it off the page, because everybody is beautiful and everybody is smart.

    “We took all of those out and just tried to make it as pure as we could,” she says.

    “We worked to make sure the message could reach everybody,” Hill says. “So that everyone who reads it, or everyone who has it read to them, can hear the words and find the value in themselves through the words that are being shared.”

    Seeds for the self

    The messages in the book can benefit not only the child to whom it is read but the adult reading it, Simon and Hill believe.

    “It’s more than just saying these are the words that you can express yourself,” Simon says. “It’s that I am taking time with you to tell you how valuable you are, how important you are, how deserving you are. ‘I am deserving.’ What does that mean? You’re deserving of someone that’s going to listen to you. And that’s where conversations happen.”

    To Hill, the purpose of the affirmations and the book is to “plant seeds of positivity,” he says.

    “And hopefully, as life goes on, they will blossom up and have roots, take roots in young lives of the children who are hearing the words, and also in the lives of the adults who are reading the words,” Hill says.

    “Because life is going to send you a whole bunch of negative messages,” he says. “The older you get the more you’re going to start hearing and seeing how you’re not enough, how you’re less than, how you need to be this or that.

    “The whole goal of this is that hopefully it can plant some seeds as these children are growing up,” Hill says. “They will know that they are like every good thing. They are gifted, they are enough’ they are ready, they are light.

    “And they can take that forward as they go forth into their life.”

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    ​ Orange County Register