When author Dylan Pritchett crafted a brief story a few years ago about a special little blackbird and a boy, he wasn’t intending to create a symbolic work to reflect our current times; nor could he have predicted a pandemic and the deep stirrings of racial prejudice, unrest and violence that would surface just as his picture book released this past summer.
Yet today, Yellow-Speckled Blackbird speaks to all ages. If there ever was a time to put aside selfish motives, practice patience and understanding, help spread hope and compassion, honor differences, share beauty, rise up, sing and be free … it is now.
When young Calvin hears a song and spots the yellow-speckled baby blackbird outside his window, he wants to capture her all for himself. But, Bird flies away. She returns the next morning, and Calvin marvels at her melodic voice and delicate feathers. Bird flies away again, only to return. Calvin decides to capture the bird and place her in a cage. Bird becomes silent and still and will not eat or drink. After time, Calvin knows that he must set Bird free to save her life and to share her gifts with others. Happily, she rises up singing and flies away. Bird is free! But, she will always visit the boy who honors her.
What inspired Pritchett to choose these characters and plot? “I like birds for some reason. During my dreams, I often will myself to just leap up and begin to fly,” he shares. Pritchett also values freedom, acceptance and respect for others as important themes in his writing.
Pritchett realizes the relevance of the simple message offered in Yellow-Speckled Blackbird. Below, he shares more personal thoughts about racial injustice, changing public attitudes and living as a Black man in our country, as well as what he believes is the greatest obstacle to permanent change:
“We, as a nation, have not defined ‘freedom’ nor figured out equality,” he says. “We throw that word around quite easily, but you’ll hear different meanings.” In Yellow-Speckled Blackbird, Calvin hadn’t thought about Bird’s freedom, only his own desire to hear her sing. Eventually, he realizes that he was taking away her freedom for his gain, just as we are now realizing the effects of decades/centuries of what many have lost for the gain of others.
Thoughts on how to rise above these obstacles:
- Time, listening and most of all empathy are required. Not sympathy, because no one wants to be felt sorry for. It is then we can find common ground and common sense.
- As negative social injustices continue to occur, we can become wiser to identify, label and continue to correct them. Hopefully a new generation will have the energy to keep up the fight.
- Your spirits will lift as you turn the page to the final magnificent illustration in Yellow-Speckled Blackbird. Bird soars to the sky. Free, at last, to rise and sing.
Dylan Pritchett is a native of Williamsburg, Virginia. A professional storyteller and author, he shares his ancestry and heritage through his folktales on the stage, in museums, art centers, historical sites and books. He served as president of the National Association of Black Storytellers. He is proudest of his family and two grown children.
Photos courtesy of Dylan Pritchett.
Originally published in the Winter + Spring 2020-21 issue of CO YOGA + Life Magazine.