Jason Harvey was at a loss. He was perusing through a bookstore with his youngest son, looking for a children’s book about entrepreneurship. There were a few stories about currency and personal money management, but Harvey was unable to find a single book on business-building aimed at young readers – let alone young readers of color.
Naturally, he decided to write one of his own. Thus was born the character of Sammy Startup, a young Black boy who takes his ideas from the drawing board to the final product with the help of his business team of toys and stuffed animals: Melvyn the dinosaur, head of marketing; Hattie the owl, head of finance; Reggie the action figure, head of product development; and Daryn the cephalopod, sales manager. As Sammy’s ideas come to life, Harvey said, his toys come to life too.
“He basically comes up with these great ideas to either empower people in the community to start businesses or to start his own businesses or to help businesses that are already on the ground within the community,” Harvey told the Sentinel. “It’s not about making money. It’s about how we can build small businesses within the community to then recycle dollars within the community and ultimately empower the community to be self-sufficient.”
Although Sammy is meant to empower children of color, Harvey did not want to make the character’s Blackness the core of the story. Rather than outright telling Black children they can do anything White children can do, Harvey wanted to tell a compelling story about an ambitious young boy achieving his goals – who just happens to be Black. Therefore, the book’s message centers more on a childlike spirit of creativity and self-belief, as well as the value of dedication, careful planning and persistence in the face of challenge.
“The great thing about kids is they haven’t been hit with all the obstacles yet in life,” Harvey said. “They haven’t had doors slammed on them. They don’t know failure. So, they feel they can do anything, and that’s the same type of spirit that entrepreneurs have. Sammy still has it, and he has the awareness and the courage and the perseverance to make things happen in his community.”
Harvey says the process of producing and publishing “Sammy Startup” was itself a journey in entrepreneurship. After all, he had, in true entrepreneurial fashion, noticed a need and created something to fill it. A graduate of the UCLA Anderson School of Management, Harvey has launched multiple successful companies in the past. But despite his long personal history as an entrepreneur, the publishing industry was all-new territory for him.
Luckily, he had a talented friend in the animation industry who he knew would love to do the book’s illustrations. A veteran of Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, Saxton Moore seemed like the perfect fit. No matter how skilled an artist is, Harvey said, you can always tell in the artwork whether the artists is passionate about the subject matter. He knew that Moore, also a Black man, would do a fine job because he was equally enthusiastic about the message of Sammy Startup as he was.
Harvey says the real challenge came once he began searching for a publisher, which was all the more difficult because he did not have an agent. He spent a great deal of time researching publishing companies, hoping to find one dedicated to diverse representation. Finally, he found Oople Made, a boutique publisher of children’s stories in Salt Lake City, Utah. Although Oople Made does not specifically target underrepresented communities, Harvey says the publisher truly appreciated the vision of Sammy Startup and wanted to help make it a reality. The very first edition of “Sammy Startup” was published in 2018.
Now, Harvey is writing a second Sammy Startup book, and he has secured a development deal with a major media company to start an animated TV series. He says he is excited to bring this much-needed content to every family in America, and particularly to young Black boys, who unfortunately do not always see themselves portrayed positively in entertainment media at an early age.
As a husband and father of four children, Harvey says he is deeply grateful for his family’s support during this project, and especially for the encouragement from his wife, Cara.
“I was like, ‘Sweetheart, I’ve got this idea. What do you think?’ he recalls. “My wife is ride or die so she was like, ‘Go for it if you think you can do it. It’s going to cost some money to do this this, but I understand it. And even if the book doesn’t get published, we’ll have this, our own single copy, that we can read to our kids.’”
The Harveys have made reading a primary activity in their household, and Mr. Harvey attests they have hundreds of children’s books piled on their shelves. Amidst their hectic schedule of school, work, and family time, the Harveys always find time to read to their children, often putting them to bed with a story.
With a growing body of research demonstrating the many benefits of reading aloud to children, from improving cognitive development to strengthening parent-child bonds, Harvey agrees it is essential to expose children to books early on, and he is proud to make Sammy Startup a part of that tradition.
The first Sammy Startup book, “The Sipping Point,” is available for purchase at ooplemade.com. Visit sammystartup.net/about to find a link to the sale page, and follow Sammy on Facebook (Sammystartup), Twitter (@sammystartupLFC), and Instagram (sammystartup).