Black History Month: Local magistrate discusses book signing, African American firsts
SHEPHERDSTOWN — February is Black History Month, which Magistrate Arthena Roper will be highlighting with her 11 a.m. book signing tomorrow at Four Seasons Books.
The Jefferson County magistrate, who is up for re-election this year, will be talking about and signing copies of her trilogy of children’s books: “Smart Girls Rock,” “The Adventures of Smart Boys” and “Smart Kids Rock.” Each picture book features African American children at school, which Roper believes will teach children reading the books to recognize that education is something everyone can enjoy.
“I think that the pictures in the book – they are so bright, and they just focus on settings in a school environment,” Roper said, mentioning racial diversity in children’s books is rarely seen. “I just think if adults put these images in front of children, that they will have a bright expectation of a school setting. And I think that’s half the battle of children’s success. While reading is also a part of their success, if they can see other kids in a school environment, that will inspire them to be excited about school.”
Roper thought of the idea to write children’s books and have them illustrated and published, during her time as a member of the Jefferson County School Board.
“My books are all about children, because when I worked in the school system, I would mentor children, especially in the elementary schools, and I really feel like there’s a need for children of color to see themselves in books,” Roper said, mentioning she is currently writing a baby book. “I don’t claim to want to teach anyone to read or to be an academic author. I just want to inspire.”
Her first book in the trilogy was published in 2019, making her the first published African American children’s book author. That same year, she was appointed by the chief justice of the 23rd District of the West Virginia Supreme Court to complete the final year of an unexpired term of a retiring magistrate, thus making her the first African American magistrate in West Virginia.
Roper was the first African American woman elected to the Jefferson County School Board, the first African American to work as an extension agent and assistant professor in the Eastern Panhandle for West Virginia University Extension Service and the first person in the state to serve as a full-time cultural diversity educator in the West Virginia public school system.
In an interview on Feb. 19, Roper explained she had not planned her career with the intention of accomplishing all of these “firsts.” They happened naturally, as she pursued her interests in education and local government. Roper said she hopes the accomplishments she is making will encourage future West Virginian African Americans to continue changing history, by following their dreams.
“I think it allows diverse children to know that this career opportunity is in reach,” Roper said. “I think it’s more of an outlook at what’s possible. When you see something done for the first time, it opens possibilities in your mind.”