Novelist discusses obstacles

Kimberly Stelly,

Ronnie Sydney is the best-selling author of several graphic novels, all a part of the “Nelson Beats the Odds” series. He takes creative license with his own experiences and weaves them into the pages of his comic books. During his presentation Monday, April 2, Los Medanos College counselor, Nina Ghiselli, noted the size of the audience saying it was one of the biggest turnouts for an event hosted by Disabled Students Programs and Services.

The protagonist of his book “Nelson Beats the Odds” mirrors his K-12 journey. Sydney was diagnosed with ADHD, and then was recommended for special education in kindergarten. Throughout both his and protagonist Nelson’s stories, they struggled with being mislabeled as a nuisance because of hyperactive behavior in class. He said it can be really hard for students to tell their side of things when adults are more likely to believe other adults.

“In power struggles, who wins?” he asked. “The teachers do.”

Sydney explained that he had a handful of great teachers growing up who made him feel like he could be successful, but he still hung on to some of the shame because he never actually understood why he was placed into special education.

When he got to high school, he thought he’d finally be able to be in classes with his friends, but he became disheartened after his schedule was immediately changed to include special education courses.

“There was this feeling of being deflated,” he explained.

Still, he persevered despite having an instructor who told him he’d never make it to college. He pointed out how messages like this can be extremely damaging to impressionable youth.

He said a lot of people don’t realize their potential, because they’ve been discouraged by their teachers.

“Some teachers can be bullies,” he said. “We get unfocused, we get unmotivated … we buy into that.”

When asked if homeschool had ever been on the table for him as a child, he said he feels that students with disabilities shouldn’t have to adjust themselves for society’s sake.

“Students with disabilities deserve visibility,” he said. “Society needs to know that people who think or live differently, exist.”

It wasn’t until he got into college that he began to research the purpose of special education programs.

And though he spent a lot of time talking about his experiences with special education, his focus on uplifting different marginalized groups is an intersectional one.

In addition to talking about and advocating for students with disabilities, he also intertwines his experiences being a social worker and also being black man in the United States.

“Me sharing my story with other people helps them share their stories,” he said.

A graphic novel published by Sydney last year, “Rest in Peace Rashawn”, was up for discussion as well. The story, loosely based on Tamir Rice as well a few other historical instances of police violence, tells the story of a kid who lashes out when his brother is killed. He noted that even though this was a tough topic for children to have to hear about, it’s already the reality for lot of black and Latinx Americans. About his book “Rest in Peace Rashawn Reloaded,” he called it a protest piece, explaining that it was the voice of a people who were tired of being treated poorly.

“I wrote this book to protest police violence,” he said.

Situations like the Tamir Rice situation, he said, are especially hard on parents who try their best to raise their children in a society that’s difficult for young black men to maneuver.

“I don’t think black boys know just how much their mothers and fathers worry about their safety,” said Sydney.

However, he expressed hopes that people will take their experiences and turn it into something that could potentially benefit disaffected youth.

As a piece of advice to all creative types in marginalized groups, he said he hopes people will be inspired to write their own books and tell their own stories. 

“The worst thing we can do is not share our stories. Sometimes we let our shame and guilt keep us from sharing.”