Once school had ended for the day, Keira Johnson rushed home and settled in. She wasn’t frantic, nor was she relaxed. Keira was excited. Now, she was home-sweet-home as she signed into her own game with thousands of other gamers just like her.
Welcome to the world of SLAY, a thriving role-playing game created as a safe space and virtual community for black gamers. But that is in the world of Keira Johnson, the character of Brittney Morris’s best-selling young adult novel, SLAY. However, SLAY has become a sacred treasure for people of color, encouraging boldness, pride, and chasing dreams while enduring a harsh world full of systematic racism and trolls. All things relevant to the world we currently live in, even though it is the 21st century and the Civil Rights Act was signed in 1964, hoping to promise a better social life for people of color in American society. Key-word: hoping. There was never any guarantee that systematic racism—or racism in general—would vanish into thin air once desegregation was made possible. 2020 and 2021 are probably the most profound years of discrimination in the 21st century. From white supremacy demonstrations in the forms of Ku Klux Klan marches, reports of young black men being found hanging from trees, rise of attacks against Asian-Americans, numerous reports of Black men and women tragically dying in the hands of law enforcement, and people of color being attacked and assaulted like it is for sport. Whoever said that just because it is the 21st century, racism has “died down”? There is no such thing—and Brittney Morris used that to create the world of SLAY and empower Black people to embrace whom they are while defying the limitations.
When it comes to breaking the barriers and empowerment, authors can use fictional characters to do the job. Although, despite being characters of “fiction,” they are inspired by actual people most of the time. Nevertheless, for Brittney Morris, her inspiration for SLAY came from another fictional character that embodied Black Pride and living boldly—Black Panther. Released in 2019, Black Panther drew in many people, becoming the highest-grossing film by a Black director, earning more than 1.3 billion dollars in the box office. But what about Black Panther attracted so many people? The beautiful depiction of African culture? The storyline? The massive and tremendous casting of people of color? The costume designs? Perhaps, all the above.
Nevertheless, Morris claimed that her inspiration for SLAY happened while seeing Black Panther for herself while sitting in a room that established a sense of community and inclusion. In an interview with WNDB, Morris said, “[It] was my first experience walking into a room full of Black people and feeling like I belonged. Just as I was, in my cardigan and nerdy glasses, having never experienced several major elements of Black culture. I was enough. That love and acceptance I felt when I left the theater changed my life.” Thus, the world of SLAY was born.
Morris said that she wanted to share that similar experience she had with other people, spreading the message to Black people that “we’re varied enough, that our culture is vast enough, that we live across enough of the world, there’s most definitely a place for [us]” (WNDB, 2019).
Morris fulfills her promise by delivering a powerful, deep, honest story about a young visionary who takes things to the next level while tackling hardships that are inevitable for people of color to encounter, especially when on the road to success. In the words of Morris herself, “SLAY was a love letter to Black people worldwide,” and Morris did more than motivate Black people everywhere to live fiercely. Morris reminded Black people everywhere that we are essential and we do matter. Every day, Black-owned businesses are booming, and Black innovators make a name for themselves, leaving their marks in the world. Black people are more than what is depicted by the media. Like Keira Johnson, Black people are strong, intelligent, humble, gifted, beautiful, and epic. Keira Johnson is a character who proves racism cannot break the humility of people who are courageous enough to take on challenges and then overcome them. A powerful message for young writers everywhere who will be the voices of significant change for the nation and the entire world. So let’s raise a glass to Brittney Morris, thanking her for her love letter—all 323 pages of it—and paving the way for other young writers of color who will also change the game for a brighter future. A future where all good things are possible for every human being.