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Tustin mayor champions diversity in government with her own children’s book

Letitia Clark, mayor of Tustin holds her children's book "Mommy is the Mayor."
Letitia Clark, mayor of Tustin and a mother of three, wrote a children’s book, “Mommy is the Mayor,” about the role of a mayor, the importance of community engagement and diversity in government.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Letitia Clark, mayor of Tustin and a mother of three, was not sure her kids truly understood her job.

“I have twins, they are 14 now, but when I first ran for office they were 8,” said Clark.

They accompanied her to meetings and understood that as a city council member, Mommy was busy.

“As they started to get more interested in what Mommy was doing and why,” said Clark, “I realized that even though they were with me a lot and close to me, they still didn’t have a good understanding of all the behind-the-scene things I did as a city council person and now as the mayor.”

Clark, who was selected by her Tustin City Council peers to serve as mayor for the 2021 calendar year, found that many adults also were not familiar with the breadth of her duties.

“When I got selected as mayor, even talking about the process that I wasn’t elected but appointed by my colleagues to be the mayor, adults were like, ‘Well, how does that work?’” Clark said.

Clark set out to write a children’s book that would explain her role to not only children but the adults reading the book to them as well.

“I thought the book could be a good conversation starter for families,” said Clark.

Clark tapped Halo Publishing International for her project and worked on the book during the pandemic.

“I knew I was going to do the self-publishing route. Halo Publishing specializes in children’s books and they helped me locate the illustrator.”

Clark said she worked closely with the illustrator, Sarah K. Turner, about the details of her characters.

“We talked about how we wanted the skin color to be, the hair styles, just the feel of the book,” said Clark. “And I wrote all the stanzas in the book, but then the editor had input about how it should flow.”

The result is a full-color, rhyming children’s book for kids ages 5 to 10 titled, “Mommy is the Mayor.” The book explores the role of the city mayor through the eyes of children.

Tustin Mayor Letitia Clark's children's book "Mommy is the Mayor," about the role of a mayor.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“The book was really inspired by my kids being inquisitive and then also making sure my kids know how serious the job is,” said Clark. “It is not just going to fun events and doing ribbon cuttings … there is a lot of work and everything that they see in their community is impacted by what I do and what me and my colleagues do.”

The book also touches on the need for representation and the importance of demonstrations of role modeling for children of color.

“What I learned was that only 12% of children’s books feature people of color,” said Clark, “I am happy to add to that percentage.”

In 2018, publishing statistics complied by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, School of Education found that only 10% of characters in children’s books were depicted as African or African American. The study found the majority of children’s book characters were portrayed as white (50%) or as an animal or other non-human character (27%).

Clark understands the need for children to see themselves in their role models because she found her way into city government after seeing women like herself making a difference.

Clark earned her bachelor of arts degree in political science from the Xavier University of Louisiana, and she began her career in New Orleans.

“When I was in New Orleans I thought I wanted to study law. It wasn’t until I started to work on some Black women’s campaigns … They are running for mayor and running for Senate and they are winning. And they look like me,” Clark said, “And here I am 19, 20 years old, seeing that for the first time and it completely changed what I wanted to do in my career. At that time the ceiling for me was a lawyer because that was all I had observed.”

While working in New Orleans, Clark witnessed Hurricane Katrina and saw first hand the role city government can play for a community in need.

“I just grew a really great respect and appreciation for local government and our responsibility to people,” Clark said. “At the end of the day, when it was time to respond to the disaster it was the mayor, the city council, not the governor, not the president … they came in way later.”

The book speaks to her personal experience and she feels the impact it is having.

“I am already getting back what I hoped I would,” said Clark. “As people are learning about the role of a mayor, they are being inspired by all the things our local government does and then they are seeing a woman of color in the book.”

So what do her children think about their mother’s job now?

“What has resonated most with my kids is they see service as a part of just what we do,” said Clark. “They may not want to go into politics or government but whatever they do, I know they will want to volunteer and they will want to get involved.”

Clark will be doing a book-signing event at Barnes & Noble in Tustin on Nov. 20. “Mommy is the Mayor” is available online from Amazon, Target and Barnes & Noble.

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