By Chesnie Wardell
This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee. Visit milwaukeenns.org.
At 17, Daija Thompson was deeply involved in her faith and had a family full of love and care.
And, still, she despaired over the choices other 17-year-olds were making.
What followed was “Discovering Your Identity: Affirmation, Declaration & Vision,” a book that made the Washington Heights resident a rarity – a teen author.
Thompson, now 19, grew up participating in the Greater Faith Outreach Ministries and, from there, the first-generation author said she was able to discover her own identity and publish her book at 17 in July 2020.
Her quest began with her own confusion during her high school years when suicidal people came to her for help. “I come from a home of love and affection. I never had to experience neglect, pain or mental abuse,” Thompson said.
Thompson wrote the book so, she said, readers could let God’s affirmations in Scripture help define their identities instead of their circumstances. The 107-page book is a guide to discovering identity through God’s word.
So how does a teenager write a book?
Thompson wrote hers in four months. She felt it was urgent for her to publish it quickly as COVID-19 surged and people were isolated at home stewing in what were, for many, stressful situations.
She said she wanted something published so people could retrieve words that might help any time they needed it.
“This word that God is giving me to speak could ultimately change their lives,” Thompson said.
Her mother, Monae Ellis, helped conduct surveys asking people, “Who are you?” Responses contained general answers they weren’t looking for such as being a mother, entrepreneur, etc.
“That’s not who you are, that’s what you do,” Ellis said.
People aren’t defined by that, Thompson said.
“The things God says that you are, then that’s what we are. You are beautiful. You are royalty, You are smart!” she said.
Thompson uses Scripture to back up the affirmations in the book. Affirmations are words that affect your life in positive ways.
Thompson aspired to attend Spelman College, a historically Black liberal arts college for women in Atlanta, Georgia.
She gave up that dream, spending weary nights typing five pages a day into Google Docs and researching publishing companies.
There was a problem, however. No one she knew had knowledge about how to publish books.
Her research led Thompson to the self-publishing platform, Amazon Kindle Direct. According to its website, authors can get up to 70% of royalties.
The platform took care of publishing and shipping the paperback books, so Thompson didn’t have to worry about that.
To engage readers, Thompson spent $500 on pens, custom bookmarks and shirts with the affirmations in the book on it.
She used friends and family in photo shoots to model her apparel for the book. Her readers could order directly from her through Instagram and Facebook. Then she would ship it out herself.
Author copies were $3.18 each from Amazon Kindle Direct, so, Thompson, by this time a Marquette University student, bought 150 copies to sell herself. She took trips to hair care services and malls to promote the book.
For professional editing, her grandmother, Yolonda Thompson, pitched in by directing her granddaughter to a reading intervention specialist at Chicago Public Schools, Shalonda Johnson.
Johnson said she thought Daija was well ahead of her time and was coachable.
“I have met with and read many books from many different authors, most of which have been much older than Daija, but she was different. Her book was different. I appreciated her wisdom,” Johnson said.
At one point, Johnson was conducting Zoom and FaceTime calls with Thompson from the hospital because she was giving birth to a fragile baby at 24 weeks. They managed, however, to make the fixes they wanted in the book.
According to Thompson, the book has sold in 11 states and in Jamaica.
“I was very thrilled that she had the foresight to recognize the things that young ladies should be attuned to, to make themselves positive young ladies,” said the author’s grandmother, Yolanda Thompson.
Ellis said she feels blessed that she was able to help her daughter become an author.
Daija Thompson used one more event in her life for inspiration. In the Pentecostal Churches of the Apostolic Faith organization, she once sang behind gospel singer Marvin Sapp and met gospel artists Kierra Sheard and Todd Dulaney, who was her biggest inspiration.
Dulaney told her how he gave up his baseball career to do God’s work. Thompson felt she was in a similar situation and that it was her moment to stay in Milwaukee to help her community. And so she did.
Thompson is now a financial advocate for the Mental Health Emergency Center, a county facility at 1525 N. 12th St. set to open in September. She said she intends on publishing another book, “Financial Wellness 101,” in the fall and retiring at 30.
“Work now and enjoy later.” That’s what Thompson said she needs to execute to achieve several streams of income to be a millionaire.
In June, Thompson attained her license to be a real estate agent. By the end of the year, she hopes to start an Airbnb business.
She is now helping three other girls write their own books.
“I knew people were inspired by that,” Thompson said.
For more information
You can order copies of Thompson’s book on Amazon.