Editor’s Note: The Early Learning Nation Studio recently attended the 2023 National Black Child Development Institute’s annual conference in Charlotte, NC. We had rich and illuminating conversations with early learning researchers, policymakers, advocates and practitioners of all ages. The full collection of video conversations can be found here.
Hotep is an artist and educator, but most importantly, he’s a father to two young “cubs.” Hotep has created a family friendly anime series, centered around a father and his two children, representing characters that look like them and instilling some of the important qualities for positive human development: Confidence, self-esteem and belief in oneself.
Chris Riback: Hotep, thanks for coming by the studio.
Hotep: Thank you for having me, Chris, it’s a pleasure.
Chris Riback: What is Black Lion and Cubs?
Hotep: So Black Lion and Cubs is a family friendly anime series, more of a culture and art movement that I created, centered around a father and his two children. It’s something that was motivated by fatherhood. Because I became a father four years ago and my children were excited about some of the things I was sharing with them that I grew up on in the 80s. I decided that I could create what they were seeing in a way that was fashioned to represent characters that looked like them and that was also more family friendly, because a lot of the cartoons and anime back then and today were a little too violent.
Chris Riback: Yes, a lot of violence.
Hotep: Yes, a lot of violence.
Chris Riback: And what are the themes that you carry through the narrative? What are some of those lessons that you want to pass on to your cubs?
Hotep: Being a former teacher myself, I’m studied in the things necessary for human development. And one of the big things that I’ve come to understand that’s important is confidence, self-esteem, belief in oneself, all the things that we call in education now, social-emotional learning. Competency, right, that competency. So I wanted to teach those types of lessons to my children at a very early age and help them grow up and develop those types of competencies. It was something that Frederick Douglass said that struck me the most. He said, “It’s easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” And that statement resonated a lot with me, not only as an educator, but now as a father, making sure that I build them strong so that we don’t have to do the repair work that we hear in society, all the mental health and the self-care. All that’s a reactive response to something that could be proactively built in a human being.
Chris Riback: What are some of the episodes in Black Lion and Cubs?
Hotep: So I have two series, two separate series that have already been developed. The first one is called Valley of the Kings. Valley of the Kings is centered around Black Lion and his cubs as they travel throughout North Africa on behalf of the Pharaoh of Upper Egypt, who has sent them to find his queen who has been captured, if you will, kidnapped by the king of Lower Egypt. And so, they’ve been warring for some time, and now the queen is caught up in the middle and Black Lion and cubs have been deployed to help find her. So they traveled to a lot of historical locations in North Africa between Nubia and Egypt.
The second series is called, Sands of Time. Sands of Time is a more interplanetary story where the heroes, once again are called upon by the family of the kingdom of Upper Egypt, but this time the queen. The king of Upper Egypt has fallen ill and now she sends them across the universe to find the ingredients to make a mystical elixir-
Chris Riback: Wow.
Hotep: … to come back and bring him back to health.
Chris Riback: Now you mentioned previously that your kids right now are four and two-years-old.
Hotep: That’s correct.
Chris Riback: So the two-year-old, we’ll forgive him or her if they haven’t seen it. But has your four-year-old seen any of the shows?
Hotep: Oh, yes, both of them have.
Chris Riback: Both of them have.
Hotep: Both of them have.
Chris Riback: How did they react?
Hotep: Oh, they love it. I mean, because first and foremost, the characters are fashioned after them, if you will, so they can relate in the fact that. And they’re named after my children, so that’s number one.
Chris Riback: What are their names?
Hotep: Salahdin and Osaro are their names. So we have Super Salahdin and Awesome Osaro, are the two cubs. So while some kids today know of the newest singers or rappers, or athletes, my children don’t know who these people are, but they know who King Khufu was or King Ramses. They know about Nubia and Egypt, so real historical places and people that is going to bring them a closer awareness to their own culture and history. And so even my two-year-old, to that point, He, “That’s King Ramses,” or, “That’s King Khufu.” He knows it. Or, “That’s a pyramid, a sphinx.” He knows these words and knows these items even at two.
Chris Riback: Well, you’re also quite an entrepreneur. Where can people see the anime, see your work? And what other reaction do you get outside of your immediate family?
Hotep: Oh, well that’s why I’m excited to be here. I wasn’t sure outside of the family what kind of response I would get, but I had the pleasure of being distributed, my cartoon being distributed on a streaming service known as Black Education Station. It’s a streaming service, much like Netflix and Disney, but it’s been created by Black people and all the content features Black people in a prominent role. And so, on Black Education Station they’re in the forefront. They’re the hero and-
Chris Riback: They’re the protagonist.
Hotep: They’re the protagonists. And there’s no ads. The great thing about Black Education Station-
Chris Riback: Oh.
Hotep: … there’s no ads, different from YouTube, if you will. So my cartoon is distributed exclusively on that network. But outside of that, being here at a conference like this and being able to share with people Black Lion and Cubs and test the market, if you will, the response has been overwhelming. It’s almost as if people have been starved or are thirsty and when they see the characters and the beautiful artwork, they’re like, “Oh, my God, my child watches anime and you don’t see in the anime space, you don’t see many African-American characters or Black characters.” And so for people to see that the response has been overwhelming. I tell people that I’m working on making Black Lion and Cubs the next biggest thing since Dragon Ball Z.
Chris Riback: Well, I know Dragon Ball Z. I have a kid who was of the age when that was particularly popular. Let me say, if you can be half as popular as Dragon Ball Z, that would be an incredible accomplishment.
Hotep: Well, Chris, I’m grateful to you to have this kind of opportunity to share with your audience and others that it exists, it’s here, it’s an alternative. And like you said, if I make it halfway there, my brother, I’m doing well. Doing well.
Chris Riback: Feels to me like you’re doing okay. And even if we didn’t think so, it sounds like you’ve got at least two cubs who think you’re doing pretty well.
Hotep: My brother. Yes, sir. And that’s what it’s all about. That’s what it’s all about.
Chris Riback: Thank you for coming by and talking with us.