From an early age, Keonté Beals found power in words. He’s been writing short stories since the fourth grade, and songs since he was just 13.
In his debut album King, released last year, he reflected on life as a young Black man in North Preston, N.S. The album touches on themes of masculinity, mental health and love, drawing on his own personal experiences.
Now the award-winning singer and songwriter is reaching a new audience with a self-published children’s book titled I Am Perfectly Me, created with the help of his 10-year-old brother Antonio Beals. The book’s setting is based on their upbringing in North Preston and tells the stories of several characters from a range of cultural backgrounds, all who celebrate their differences.
With the help of his brother, Mr. Beals drew all of the characters – inspired by his own friends and family – by hand. He hopes the book gives kids confidence through representation.
“When I was growing up, I didn’t get to open a book and see myself in it. I feel like a lot of the things that made me different also made me feel beautiful,” said Mr. Beals, 24, who won the African Nova Scotian Artist of the Year award in 2019. “I just want kids to feel empowered and let them know that their differences are what make them unique.”
The brothers have seen an “overwhelming” amount of support since releasing the book. Keeping up with the demand has proven to be a task in itself – Mr. Beals sold all 50 copies available within hours of its release and since then has received a long list of backfill orders he’s working to keep up with.
Schools across the Halifax Regional Municipality have requested copies of I Am Perfectly Me and Mr. Beals has been hosting virtual readings for classrooms across the city.
Mr. Beals is splitting the profits from the book, priced at $30, with his younger brother and reinvesting any leftover proceeds into his company KBeals Entertainment, an online platform where he shares his original music and sells his book.
“The whole reason I included Antonio was so that he would reap the benefits of learning creative and business skills at such a young age,” Mr. Beals said. “It’s been a great experience.”
The biggest reward for him as a first-time author, though, is what the book represents – to himself and those he’s hoping will recognize their own stories in its pages.
“To see a Black author from the community is so important,” Mr. Beals said.
North Preston, a suburb of Halifax, is home to the highest concentration of African-Canadians in any community across Canada.
The area has been historically under-resourced and plagued by a cycle of poverty and gun violence, leading to negative stereotypes that weigh on the community, Mr. Beals said, noting that he aims to change that narrative.
“The people here are full of love and it’s a really faith-driven community,” he said. “That’s why we’re so proud – because there’s so much history here and so many stories of prosperity and courage, and I come from that.”
Mr. Beals’ family lineage in North Preston goes back more than 400 years – that survival, he said, is a testament to the strength of the community – something that has been passed down from generation to generation.
“The fact that we’re still alive today and prospering is a blessing – and speaks to the courage that we have.”
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