Tennessee State University alums, undergrad make their marks in the world of children’s literature

By LEE JOHNSON | Nashville Voice


Two Tennessee State University alums and an undergraduate student are making a name for themselves in the world of children’s publishing.

The book by alum Deontae Henderson is called Young William, and graduating senior Kayla McCrary’s book is Dream Girl, Dream! Both books were illustrated by TSU alum Brandon Van Leer, who has his own graphic design company.

Young William actually honors another alum, Buffalo soldier and Medal of Honor recipient Lt. William McBryar, who served with the 25th Infantry in the Spanish-American War and fought at El Caney, Cuba, and in the Philippine Insurrection before demobilizing in San Francisco.

For his service, McBryar was awarded America’s highest military decoration—the Medal of Honor — on March 7, 1890, during the Cherry Creek Campaign in the Arizona Territory.

According to his citation, McBryar was distinguished for “coolness, bravery, and marksmanship” while his 10th Cavalry troop was in pursuit of hostile Apache warriors.

In 1934, at the age of 73, McBryar graduated from TSU, then known as Tennessee Agriculture and Industrial State College, with an agriculture degree. He died seven years later and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Last spring, a special ceremony was held at TSU to unveil a special marker honoring McBryar.

Henderson’s book provides a poetic depiction of McBryar’s journey from childhood to becoming a military hero.

“William McBryar is one of those guys you don’t believe existed,” said Henderson, who graduated last year and became an international bestselling author with the success of his second book, The Hungriest Pirate. “He (McBryar) was a real superhero. He got in the war at a young age. He fought in three wars. He survived them. He saved his regiment. We have Iron Man, the Hulk and Batman, but if you want a realistic superhero, he is the perfect example of that.”

In Dream Girl, DreamI, McCrary uses her personal experiences to encourage others, particularly young people, to persevere in tough times. McCrary lost her mother in the first semester of her freshman year at TSU.

Her mother’s death also meant becoming the main support for her then 5-year-old sister, Regan Christian. McCrary said she was torn between dropping out and trying to help her sister cope with the aftermath of their mother’s death.

“It was hard,” McCrary recalled. “Losing our mother at such an early age for my little sister, and me just starting in college, was very difficult for me. She was our biggest support and friend. I thought, how is my sister going to make it, and how can I concentrate on school when she needs me?”

McCrary said she found out her sister was stronger than she thought, and actually became an inspiration for her.

Together, they persevered, and are enjoying life. Regan is doing well in school, and McCrary currently serves as president of the student government association at TSU. She plans to attend graduate school or law school after college.

Dream Girl, Dream! is mainly a story of inspiration,” McCrary said. “Sometimes in life you go through things that are just not expected, and a lot of things are out of your control. So, I want them (young people) to know, no matter what your current circumstances are, dream as big as you want to. If your dreams don’t scare you, then they are not big enough.”

Both Young William and Dream Girl, Dream! are available on Amazon.

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