Photo of A'dora Willis holding her book, "He and Me"
credit: Olivia Richter

At 19 years old, A’dora Willis of Greenbelt, Maryland, just published her first children’s book. She is a full-time student at Bowie State University, helps her mother run a home daycare, volunteers with the youth organization D.C. SCORES and teaches kids at a martial-arts studio. Yet Willis wanted to do more to help children.

“He and Me” aims to educate kids on the importance of having a strong spiritual foundation. “Even if people are of different religions or not part of a particular religion, I want [the book] to be something that we can all gather around together,” Willis said. “There are too many things that young people have to worry about that they shouldn’t even be worried about.”

Willis began writing in third grade as part of D.C. SCORES, a nonprofit after-school program for kids in need that combines writing, soccer and service-learning. Soccer is what first drew Willis to the organization, but the required weekly writing workshops helped her realize her passion for poetry.

“I never really knew that I could write,” Willis said. “When they introduced that to me I was like, ‘wow this is amazing,’ and I stuck with it.”

The book, “He and Me: Little Nuggets for Bright Futures,” was inspired by the children who surround Willis daily, including her two little sisters. She originally wanted to create a children’s cartoon for television, but her mother advised writing a book first. Willis hopes this, and her future books, will someday be developed into an animated series.

The vibrant illustrations she designed with her mother depict children of all colors and with a multitude of features and backgrounds. The characters, ranging from pink to brown, have glasses, gaps between teeth — inspired by her mother’s own gap — freckles, dreadlocks, afro puffs and even polka-dotted hair.

“I wanted the characters to be different and I didn’t just want people of color,” Willis said. “I wanted it to be a vast array of children to reach different audiences. They’re all just unique, and I wanted them to represent different children at different points in their lives.”

As a D.C. SCORES alumna, Willis tries to provide the same support and care to current participants that she received when she was young.

“Being with them, I see so much potential,” Willis said of the kids in D.C. SCORES. “I don’t know if other people saw that in me and that’s why they invested so much time in me. But seeing that light in them, it was beautiful. And I want to help them in any way I can.”

Willis stopped writing in sixth grade because her middle school did not have a D.C. SCORES program and she didn’t know any other kids that wrote poetry. She said she doesn’t want the stress that school, problems at home or bullying can bring to lead other kids to stop pursuing their passions.

She hopes her book can provide comfort to kids who are struggling.

“We all go through things, but at least if we have some sort of foundation, it’s easier,” Willis said. She described situations when children would arrive at their daycare in tears. “‘Oh my gosh I didn’t see my Mommy last night,’ or ‘Oh my gosh I was out all night, I didn’t get anything to eat.’ I said, ‘Well, things happen.'”

Katrina Owens, chief of staff at D.C. SCORES, praised Willis’s leadership and growth from a student in the organization to an accomplished alumna.

“We love A’dora,” Owens said. “I have this vivid memory of her performing at Arts and Technology Academy, and what an amazing kid and performer she was. I can see how far she’s come now, and she’s really become a leader for our current participants.”

Willis is grateful for the continued support of D.C. SCORES and described the organization as a part of her family.

The praise and gratitude Willis is receiving from readers of “He and Me” has motivated her to write more books. She aims to spread messages of positivity to readers of all ages and to encourage young readers to keep doing what they love, regardless of external pressure, stress and worry.

“I want the kids to realize that it’s okay,” Willis said. “It’s okay to be a poet. It’s okay to like to draw, it’s okay to be artistic. If you want to sew, so be it! If you want to play soccer and everyone else at your school is playing hockey, play soccer! Just do it.”