Protection within Black communities takes on multiple meanings. In many cases, community members unilaterally decide that a child has a bright future and should steer clear of the pitfalls the streets often provide.

“Harry,” the main character of the children’s book Love Bubble, is surrounded by love from his community, starting with his grandmother, affectionately known as “Big Girl,” and other community members, many of whom are business owners—a nugget that spoken word artist and author Harold Green III establishes throughout the book. 

Green, who grew up in Englewood, centers community in his book, and its elders are a constant presence. According to Green, “love bubbles” are metaphors that protect people from the troubles (career struggles, interpersonal and private disagreements, conflict, etc.) that pop up every now and again. 

The book appears to be a microcosm of what Green believes “community” ought to represent. Everyone in a community or in any shared living space should be mindful when it comes to helping each other out. In the book, Harry starts to notice a literal dark cloud following him as he approaches his grandmother’s home, and he shares his plight with her. As time goes on, it’s abundantly clear that Big Girl appears to have established lasting relationships with her neighbors which include local entrepreneurs. 

When the time comes for her to help Harry gather the information needed to make his own love bubble to keep the dark cloud away, she knows where to go.

Every community member represents a moral value in the book; the bakery owner represents heart. The auto repair shop owner discusses strength, while the local law officer preaches patience.

Many of us can think back to a time when someone showed how they believed in what we’d like to achieve. Those instances of kindness could be a car ride to a job interview, a loan to invest in a start-up, an offer to watch the kids so we could work on a project, a donation for a haircut or hairdo, an email introduction, or simply kind words of encouragement. 

Green has a short but poignant line in Love Bubble that’s a microcosm for many folks who have roots in marginalized communities and who, sometimes invoking survivors’ remorse, have gone on to achieve success in their chosen field of human endeavor: Don’t forget all the people that helped you along the way.

Harold Green III sat down with the Weekly to discuss the Englewood he knew growing up, being a father of two boys, the place that elders hold in Black communities, how he describes dark clouds, Black entrepreneurship, and the constant struggles creatives like him deal with. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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What was Englewood like when you were growing up? 

I lived in Englewood over on 74th and Princeton from birth to the eighth grade; we moved out to Richton Park … For me, it was a beautiful experience… my grandmother would pick us up and take us to school. And we would come home and there’d be fights in front of our two-flat. Different chaotic things that would happen. But once we walked in those doors, we were immersed in love, and my grandmother would cook us meals. We came from a two-parent household. It was me, my sister, my mother, and my father on the first floor and then my grandmother and a rotation of our cousins upstairs. So no matter what chaos was going on outside, I was always surrounded by love.

As I noticed throughout the book, “Harry,” who was probably you, right? His grandmother took him around to all the different folks in the neighborhood. Were there specific instances you can point to growing up where you felt like your immediate community assisted you or helped you in some way? 

Yeah, more so by my grandfather’s house; not where we lived. Me and my homies would ride our bikes and things like that, but my grandmother would take us places but we never walked anywhere in the community. And she was actually sending me to the corner store to grab her different little essentials and things like that… It wasn’t like I was on a first-name basis with people and things of that nature. In my grandfather’s neighborhood (West Pullman), that was the feel because he’s kind of a community man type of guy. So it was a mixture, when I was creating this story, of the thoughts and feelings that I had between those two neighborhoods.

In the book you had a line that said: “Don’t forget all the people who helped you along the way.” Can you explain the impetus of why you felt like you had to put that in the book? What does it mean to you?

Yeah, I think that’s such an important “bow” on the story because, I think especially nowadays, technology and social media almost takes the place of community and babysitters for our children. I think that it’s important that we don’t forget to show gratitude and to show that sense of village and community… I know there’s this saying that goes around now about “losing the recipe.” That’s the “recipe” I don’t want us to lose. There’s so many people that helped us get to this point, and there’s so many people in your individual life that helped you get to where you’re at. It’s so important at a young age to keep that microscope on community.

What does community mean to you? In the book, you mention all the people Harry and Big Girl went to see to help with the love bubble. 

To me, [community] is a group of people that helped you along your journey. So in the book, it may have been a bunch of business owners and things like that. In all honesty, community can look as simple as aunts and uncles or maybe mentors, or even something as beautiful as the Safe Passage workers or crossing guards that are out giving time and energy every day to make sure that these kids are safe. You know, community is stretched far and wide. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the people on your block or the people in your specific neighborhood. But those who help you along your journey can be considered your community. 

About your grandmother’s nickname, “Big Girl.” Ironically, our family called my paternal grandfather, “Big Daddy.” Please explain why those nicknames are important in Black communities? Especially for our families’ matriarchs and patriarchs.

I think it’s such a term of endearment. I think those nicknames, even when you think back to the Black community, may not be your grandmother, but if that’s a figure known in the community. My grandmother was one of those people… These people are known by those names, and it becomes these terms of endearment, and it’s something that you never forget. It’s always funny to me because my grandmother was actually a very slender woman… The pookies and lil mans and all of these different endearing names that kind of stick with us through generations. And I think that for [Black folks], that’s ownership. When we weren’t allowed to name ourselves, we weren’t allowed to call each other by our names. And now when we have these chances to have autonomy to name ourselves, I think that is something that we take pride in no matter how silly or whatever other people may think it may be. It’s something that we own.

What is a lesson from your grandmother that has stuck with you over the years?

She wasn’t really a big advice person, she was one of those pay-attention-to-her-actions types… She was big on not saying “goodbye.” Her thing was, “just for now,” and she was very adamant about it. If you said, “Good bye, Big Girl”, she’d say: “Just for now.” And as I got older, I realized what she was doing. She didn’t believe in anything being finite. So even though you’re out of her presence for the moment, she always believed that she would see you again. I thought about that even in her passing. That was just for now; I’ll see you again. I think about that when I’m talking to people… I sign off on a lot of emails in that way because that’s something that I took from her.

Is there a situation that kind of came up when you were young, and now being a father, you were like: “Oh, I’ve seen this before. I know how to adjust and I know what to tell my sons?”

I think back to my grandmother always cooking for her family… My parents worked long hours. They were trying to build up money to get us a home. That kept them out of the house a lot… I’m in a position where I’m grateful enough that my particular career allows me to be home a little bit more. I cook our meals about five days out of the week and as a labor of love to me for our family… You’re breaking down gender roles, showing how to love through action. Showing how to be of service.

In the book, it feels like you’re teaching kids to be persistent. Harry couldn’t make a love bubble at first. As time went on, he was able to make his own. Can you explain why it’s important for children to be persistent?

I wanted to make sure that I conveyed that to children because I believe that it’s easy to give up. It’s easy to move on and do away with things. Especially when you’re young and you learn what dedication is and consistency is… I wanted another one of those golden-nugget moments to show what can happen when you stick with things. I think that’s an important lesson in life… There’s such a reward in seeing things through. Even if the results don’t actually end up the way you expected or wanted… When I’m reading a book, I’m asking the kids: “How does Harry look right now, whenever he’s defeated by a gray cloud?” so that they recognize that even when you’re sad, when things don’t go your way, when you see things through at the end of that, that can be a change in your social emotional presence. He’s sad and then when he finishes and he actually completes the mission, he’s happy. And that’s something that can happen in real life.

Thinking back on your own trials and tribulations, what does the “gray cloud” represent for you? 

That gray cloud changes his name every day. When I think about the gray cloud, I think about hurdles I may have had in my career. I left college early to pursue being an artist full-time and any successful journey, as you know, was not a straight line… I think about those types of things a lot because that can bring its own thunderstorm and lightning bolts… I think the certain trials and tribulations that I’ve had in my artistic career can be represented in that gray cloud.

Love Bubble by Harold Green III. 40 pages. Running Press Kids, 2023. $17.99. Hardcover.

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Evan F. Moore is an award-winning writer, author, and DePaul University journalism adjunct instructor. Evan is a third-generation South Shore homeowner.

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