The cover art shows the face of a dark-skinned man. He is turned to the side so that only his profile shows. His mouth is open, the one visible cheek stuffed with food. His fingertips grasp what appears to be half of planet Earth. His eyes are closed as he savors his food. He is enjoying this bite he is taking, this bite of the world.
The man in the image is Warn Wilson Jr. He is the artist who painted the image, too. The writer of the book? Well, that’s also Wilson.
Wilson wrote the book and painted the image to get across one important message to all people, and specifically to children of color.
“You have power. You have options. You have control over your life,” Wilson said.
That message is central to the children’s book “Brown Money,” which Wilson wrote, illustrated and self-published. In it, he tells the story of a boy named Jay talking to his father. The father advises his son always to have a Plan B.
Plan B, the father explains, “is a plan that you can rely on just in case your Plan A doesn’t hold up.”
In the book, the son hopes his Plan A will be to make it as a professional football or basketball player. That’s a plan Wilson himself understands well.
“I wanted to be the next Michael Jackson or Lebron James,” Wilson said. “But I’m 5-11, and I had to get realistic.”
But Wilson’s “realistic” would exceed many people’s wildest expectations. The Jackson native attended Mississippi State University and earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering.
He held an internship at a firm in Brandon. After graduating, he began working for Mitsubishi, where he designed power transformers and generators. Then he worked for Hyandai for a time before moving into his current position, a manufacturing engineer for a biomedical company in Memphis.
Yet Wilson isn’t satisfied with his day job.
In summer 2019, he injured his Achilles tendon. His leg was confined to a boot, and he could not get around easily or go out the way he usually did.
“I was talking to a buddy about this book I’d always wanted to write. I kept saying, ‘I’d do it this way,’” Wilson remembered. “He said, ‘Why are we talking? Go ahead and write it.’”
So Wilson spent two days writing the text for the book. Then he spent two weeks illustrating it using acrylics on canvas. The illustrations feature characters with dark skin rendered in a bright, vibrant cartoonish style.
“I did about one painting a day, just trying to match the artwork to the words on the page,” he said.
In the book, Jay and his father discuss issues related to finances and Jay’s future. His father encourages Jay to concentrate on his education and later diversify his income to achieve financial security.
The book is written in terms accessible to children, and the artwork uses metaphors to make meaning of the text. One illustration, for example, shows a hand grabbing a slice of pizza labelled “stock” from a pie labeled “company.”
‘A good fit for us’
That artwork later became not only part of the book but also part of a presentation Wilson made to the Starkville-Oktibbeha chapter of the Boys and Girls Clubs.
Ron Thornton, President and CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Golden Triangle, learned about “Brown Money” about two months ago. Wilson had sent emails to leaders in the area to let them know about the book and to offer to speak to local groups about it.
“Mr. Thornton called me and made a bulk order. I took the day off work and made the drive last Thursday,” Wilson said. “Because I went to Mississippi State, Starkville is like a second hometown to me.”
And Wilson did not arrive empty-handed.
“Mr. Wilson passed out his artwork. The kids got to hold it. They just lit up … they were really able to connect with that,” Thornton said.
Thornton said Wilson’s work aligned perfectly with the mission of the Boys and Girls Clubs.
“The book was a good fit for us,” Thornton said. “Our mission is to enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens. We want our youth to know they can do anything they set their minds to.”
That’s a message Wilson is likewise passionate about. While the book and its message are for all children, Wilson and Thornton are especially passionate about communicating the message of self-empowerment to children of color.
“I wrote the book for all races, but I did name it ‘Brown Money,’” Wilson noted. “I chose the cover (featuring a dark-skinned man) because what better image for a kid of color to see?”
Thornton said that aspect of Wilson’s work was especially appealing to him because many of the children served by the club are Black.
“I believe in putting people in front of them who look like them — people who are doing positive things,” Thornton said.
Plans B, C, and D
Wilson shows no sign of slowing down on the positive things he is doing, either.
“I have already written a second book. It’s called ‘Brown Money 2,’” Wilson said.
That story is a continuation of the conversation between Jay and his father, this time focusing less on financial security and more on occupations in the STEM field. Jay’s father — like Wilson — is an electrical engineer.
“I have even made a ‘Brown Money’ card game,” Wilson said. “It’s a deck of 100 cards. Players get an occupation card with an income on it. Some are occupations like actor or athlete, but many are more traditional occupations like doctor or teacher.
They can get penalties for things like not having a plan B or relying solely on one income.”
Wilson’s artwork, writing and game design are all ways he embodies the message he wants to send youth.
“I’m passionate about multiple streams of income. After I wrote the first book, I experienced a layoff at Mitsubishi. I want to show kids they have multiple options,” he said.
He wants the children who read his work to be insulated from some of the problems that a lack of financial security can cause.
“Somebody can always pull the rug out from under you,” he said. “Options can end. They can end at any time. I don’t want kids to think they are not valuable if they aren’t an athlete.”