By Megan M. Seckman
At 29, Tytianna Wells Smith has accomplished great things. She has traveled the world from Senegal to the Caribbean to China. She earned a master’s degree in Pan-African Studies from the University of Louisville, is a doctoral student, and an educator of multicultural curriculum and design. She is also a published author and illustrator of a series of children’s books, co-founder of the publishing company Honey Tree Publishing, and is a poet, artist, and wife. But, like the title of her book series Sweet Pea and Sugar Tea’s Family Adventures suggests, this today’s woman has a strong connection to the past.
Tytianna’s roots run deep, stemming from a multicultural family history that was narrated to her over meals as a child. This oral history, that spanned the globe from Africa to Creole-country, inspired her passion for culture, travel, and education. Her interest in the past even influenced her decision to conduct a DNA ancestry test, which found new roots linked to Nigeria, a country she now plans to visit in December.
“Identity and relationships have always been important to me,” Tytianna says. These tenets are reflected in her book series, comprised of four books aligned with the seasons and written in poetic verse that teach young people lessons in cultural values. At author visits, she brings along Mason jars and honey pots, which help to symbolize her roots, the family tree, and the importance of staying connected and in balance with the environment.
As an educator, and doctoral student in the field of curriculum and instruction, Tytianna strives to convey the need for a culturally responsive curriculum to the students and teachers she works with. “So many students leave school feeling education isn’t for them. Kids are changing but the curriculum isn’t — there are so few diverse characters in the books they read. I want to make a difference by being able to shape curriculum around students’ lives — I believe education is for everyone.”
This humble change-maker has had many positive experiences with education, which began with her own roots in journalism classes offered at Manual High School. She has since received scholarships offered through UofL, partaken in rich experiences studying abroad, and has participated in such programs as the multicultural theater company Roots and Wings that took her to Senegal, where she performed about socio-political issues with a group of spoken-word artists and dancers.
But above all, Tytianna likes to keep things simple and stay grateful in this complex, modern world. “Before I go, I like to speak to the universe when I’m alone. I always say ‘thank you’ and make sure that I am both appreciative and present, no matter how busy I am. I don’t let the clutter of life distract me from being human. If the phone rings and it’s a loved one, I always answer it, even if I’m in the middle of something. I never erase phone messages from my family members because you never know if that’s the last time you’ll hear their voice.”
Accessories she’s rocking:
“I love big, eccentric, statement-piece earrings that reflect my identity as an artist, poet, and educator — with a multicultural twist! I buy a pair of earrings from every place I travel. I love wood, bamboo, and natural products that reflect the culture. For instance, I have a giant pair of starfish earrings — I can only wear them for a couple of hours because they’re so heavy.”
|Photos by Sunni Wigginton|
Fashion she’s wearing:
Tytianna likes to keep it simple, so most days you’ll see her in her signature Pumas; she has about 10 pair. But she loves to punctuate her simple style with an ethnic print. She has several handmade African-Australian woven sweaters and a few international fabrics she had tailored in Senegal.
Latest purchase she’s praising:
“I recently bought a handmade Amish mahogany rocking chair. It’s whimsical and antique-looking, so my husband and I put it next to our bookshelf where we read our special books in our special chair.”
Products she uses:
I love Chapstick, Clinique products, MAC makeup, and Curly Kids leave-in conditioner for my naturally curly hair. But really, I’m very low-maintenance. I generally wash my face with water only and don’t even use lotion; I’d rather use olive oil and vitamin E and make my own solution. I like to make my own masks and scrubs out of honey, sugar, and lemon — the simpler, the better — but you can’t help but lick it away while you wait.”