From being taught in Special Education classes, to becoming an author and social worker, Ronnie Sidney II’s academic challenges encouraged him to share his story through writing. His first published book, “Nelson Beats the Odds” features a young boy who overcomes his learning disability and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). His second book, “Tameka’s New Dress” is about a young girl overcoming bullying and trauma. The next book, “Rest in Peace RaShawn,” also discusses trauma as well as police brutality. These heavy topics are all too real for many children, which is why Ronnie’s books speak to so many people. He shares his story of resilience and his constant mission to inspire others.
IN THE BEGINNING
Ronnie Sidney II was born in Richmond, VA and raised in Essex County, VA where he attended Essex County Public Schools. His mother was a nurse and his father was a minister and a state policeman.
When he was younger, Ronnie was diagnosed with Dysgraphia and ADHD. He was recommended for special education in the third grade, where he remained until the ninth grade. He graduated with a 1.8 GPA and went on to J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College. There, he made the Dean’s List and met the requirements to transfer to Old Dominion University where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Human Services.
Ronnie credits ODU with helping him grow culturally by interacting with people of different cultures. There he expanded on his knowledge of African and African American history. He also discovered a passion for working with children. After graduating, he went on to work with children as a behavior specialist and counselor.
WORKING IN A PRISON
Wanting to expand on his education, he applied and was accepted into the VCU School of Social Work. Graduating with his Masters in 2014 was a tough journey. During this time, he took a full time job at a prison, something he never envisioned but credits as one of his greatest professional experiences.
When he was working in the prison, he started a creative writing group called “Creative Medicine: Healing Words” which later became the name of his business. “Writing has always been therapeutic for me so I wanted to be able to create somewhere where the offenders could use writing, use poetry and short stories as a way to talk about some of their experiences, and also talk about their resilience,” Ronnie said.
HOW “NELSON BEATS THE ODDS” WAS BORN
His next career venture came after Ronnie went to thank some of the teachers who helped him along his educational journey. During this process, he reunited with his former Special Education teacher who encouraged him to share his story. This led to Ronnie presenting at the Richmond Association of Black Social Workers. The presentation, “Beating the Odds: How I survived Special Education” is what Ronnie described as the catalyst for “Nelson Beats the Odds.”
“I went to tell my story and also use it as a way to encourage and inspire struggling students to beat the odds,” Ronnie said. His book helped not only students and parents, but also helped teachers see how some ways they engaged with students with disabilities could do more harm than good. Seeing how the book took off and influenced others, he went on to continue his series. “I wanted to have books for young adults and children that touched on issues that were common in the media, and also issues that really spoke to what was going on in communities of color,” Ronnie said. Along with these books, he developed a “Nelson Beats the Odds Comic Creator” as a self-esteem app for children.
HOW HE HAS INSPIRED
While many people have shared how Ronnie’s books have inspired them, one of his fondest memories is of a New Jersey family. After one mother read his book, she kept in touch and told him how she and her husband were encouraged to go to their son’s school to get him the services he needed. “The book gave them that courage to make that decision and not feel judged or feel blamed,” Ronnie said.
HIS OWN INSPIRATION
“I had people who believed in me and people who saw the best in me,” Ronnie said. “And now I want to be that person to other people.” From his experience working with children from disadvantaged situations, and seeing their potential, Ronnie wants to inspire them with his stories.
He also wants to encourage literacy in the Black community and Central Virginia as a whole. “I think we have a long ways to go in the Central Virginia area in terms of creating a culture around reading and really encouraging our kids to read,” Ronnie said. This mission includes filling the books with characters that look and act like the children in the community.
During speaking engagements, Ronnie often advises children to make their struggle their strength and using their pain as a tool for growth. He also discusses bullying and other topics.
Ronnie is currently working on his next book, a story centering on a grandmother’s relationship with her granddaughter. As the grandmother battles cancer, the story will deal with the illness in a way that children can understand. “I wanted to base it off of the experience with my mom and just losing her to cancer. I had a hard time sort of explaining cancer to my five-year-old,” Ronnie said. “It’s a really big challenge so I really wanted to create a book that talks about it and hope that it talks about it in a way that kids can relate to.” He said it also served as a therapeutic way to process his mother’s death and keep her spirit alive.
Ronnie is also collaborating with a Richmond-based group that works with children who have been sex-trafficked. Together, they are working on a graphic novel that will be published through Ronnie’s company. While it is in a different style than his current series, Ronnie looks forward to touching on the serious issue and educating others as well.
WHERE CAN YOU LEARN MORE
Ronnie is available for speaking engagements, assemblies, book readings and book talks. He enjoys speaking with children, community groups and churches. “My work is almost like a mission, like a ministry,” he said.