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On Raising the Next Generation of Activists

Invisible Children's Danica Russell pens a kids' book on activism

By Erin Meanley Glenny

In this day and age, raising kids to be kindhearted, considerate, and grateful can be a rather tall order. Enter native San Diegan Danica Russell of Invisible Children—she is writing and illustrating a children’s book called ABCs of Activism. We asked her about the book, the Kickstarter campaign to publish the book (ends Wednesday, November 26), and the best things to do with kids in San Diego.

Tell us about the illustrated book!

It is a humorous, stylish, and (hopefully) hopeful book, written for those who want to change the world, and their parents.

As activists, it is everything my husband and I have learned, and everything we hope our kids know about our convictions and our work, simmered down into edible A-Z bites. It’s the book we wish was already written, as a way for parents to talk with their kids about giving back, and for people of all ages to be thinking about making their one and only life matter… while sharing a few laughs along the way.

Why did you decide to use Kickstarter and not a regular ol’ publisher?

We have some relationships with publishers but we firmly believe in the idea of calling on and including our community in a book that is about community. A book about grassroots needs to be made in a grassroots way! And, we only want to make something that wants to be made. So if you think it should be, join us!

Where did you get the idea for this book?

It has been my lifelong dream to illustrate children’s books, and after becoming a mom (and reacquainting myself with the children’s book genre), I found many of them really disappointing! If they are too smart, or deep, or cultural, they are often very heavy-handed, or not very visually interesting (meaning: my kids get bored).

We wanted to write this book for our own children, Gavin Danger and Everley Darling, as a way of explaining to them what we believe is worth fighting for, while teaching and empowering them to do the same. We want them to realize we are doing our best as parents to give them the world, and we are doing our best as people to make that world something worth having.

What will the book teach kids?

How to speak up for themselves and for others. That it is never too soon, or too late, to start thinking about kindness and proactive problem-solving in big and small ways. How being an activist, at this moment in history, is everybody’s job.

What is your sense of the way the world is headed—are people growing more compassionate or less so?

This is a tricky one. As we are becoming more and more connected, I want to believe we are growing more compassionate. It is our hope that technology continues to connect us rather than allow us to hide, or troll, or bully; that the more we see and feel and befriend one another, across the globe, the more compassionate we become.

What Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said was true: “The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice.” But it depends on our ability to act, and how quickly we want that justice. We still have a lot of work ahead of us.

How old are your kids and how do you get them to understand activism and do-gooding?

Gavin is a sharp, deep, seven-year-old and Everley is a fiery, funny, five-year-old. I think in general, since birth, we have been deliberate about including them in our events at Invisible Children, and including them in our friendships with people who live in very different circumstances around the world. They know the whats and the whys. But activism doesn’t have to be grand. It’s about prompting them to the smaller acts too. We reiterate consideration, kindheartedness, and action!

Your whole family seems to be very creative. Did you study art or are you self-taught?

Well, both. My husband Jason and I were both raised in pretty creative, artistic families, and we have always just been this way. We are childhood sweethearts, so we have a giant box of our letters to each other that were pretty elaborate art projects. Then in high school, I had a teacher tell me that the doodles covering my homework were actually something I should pursue. In college, I majored in photography and drawing while my husband received his degree in Cinematography from USC.

We have continued to refine our crafts over the years as we work at Invisible Children. If you are creative, you create. Period. And because I love any kind of art so deeply, making things with our kids is my sweetest of sweet spots.

Is this book connected with your husband’s organization, Invisible Children, or is it an independent project?

This project is totally independent from Invisible Children. This is a passion project that both Jason and I are eager to share with our children. It is, of course, informed by our life’s work, but—entirely us.

You and Jason both grew up in San Diego and now you’re raising two of your own. Great places to go with kids?

There are so many great places to go in San Diego! Obviously, we have to start with the beach. It’s why we are all here. Moonlight Beach is like something out of an old-fashioned Gidget movie with snow cones and tanned teens playing volleyball. My parents live in P.B., so we think the boardwalk is something special. Gavin can skateboard now, and Everley loves her rollerskates, so we go down and beach-cruise. Everley started Kindergarten this year (sniff), but when they were still tinys, I’d frequent ArtSoup and Nightingale Music School. We still love Balboa Park (especially on free Tuesdays!), the Botanic Garden, the New Children’s Museum… Sea World never gets old to me, and we love to go see my niece perform in CYT shows!

We need more restaurants like Stone, Station, and Bestawan! Where the parents can sit for a long time enjoying San Diego brews and the kids can just play! That’s what SD is to me. Good weather, and good hangs.

Follow the making of the book on Instagram @SomethingWeRusselledUp.

On Raising the Next Generation of Activists

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