Vada Azeem is irrevocably tied to Columbus. After growing up on the Northeast side of the city, Azeem studied at the Columbus College of Art & Design for a year, and then mentored youth at the Central Community House in Old Towne East (which you can support at no personal cost by signing up for Kroger Community Rewards) for longer. Azeem started rapping at 12, co-founded a hip hop collective at 23, dropped his first solo mixtape three years later, and now, he’s breaking into children’s books.
The Boy Who Tried to Touch the Sun is inspired by Akeem’s experiences working with youth, the children’s books which comforted him as a child, and his own son, Peyton. It’s dedicated to Ty’re King, a 13-year-old boy who was shot and killed by Columbus police in September 2016. In it, Anu, a young black boy, is pushed into impossible tasks by a community of white people who are scared of his presence. In many ways, it’s a direct extension of Azeem’s work as an educator and mentor–the book doesn’t shy away from difficult conversation, but greets it with empathy. Black children reading the book are greeted with a story of a child like them thriving despite the apparent impossibility of his situation. Along with writing the story, Azeem illustrated and colored each page with loose, deft strokes and brilliant color.