We had the good fortune of connecting with Nicole and Khalil Thompson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Nicole and Khalil, other than deciding to work for yourself, what else do you think played a pivotal role in your story?
The single most important decision we made that contributed to our success was to shift our priorities and make doing life with our family our central focus. (Now don’t get us wrong. We were running full steam ahead, with all the pedigree and job titles in tow, after what we thought was the American Dream; but the joy, peace and fulfillment we thought it would bring simply evaded us and instead left us craving something more. So we decided to truly put family first, to let go of societal norms and preconceptions and to work together as a family to create entities and products that make a difference and leave an impact. Out of that decision grew Empowered Readers Literacy Project and the Penelope the Pirate Princess book series.)
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
We created the Empowered Readers Literacy Project (our nonprofit) to help families build strong reading rituals and to get kids excited about books when our 5-year-old daughter Selah (who is now 8 years old) on her first day of Kindergarten recognized the disparity in literacy amongst her peers and challenged us to help her do something about it. That “something” included creating this nonprofit that would be the catalyst for the “Children’s March for Literacy: The March to 20 Hundred Thousand Books” dreamed up by Selah and the Out of the Margins program that brings diverse books and fun literacy pop-ups to kids and families in underserved communities. The Penelope the Pirate Princess book series came about when our 5-year-old daughter Selah (now 8 years old) could not find any books featuring little girls who looked like her and liked doing the things that she liked to do, so she decided to write her own. She tapped into her imagination and out came Penelope, a little girl who is a regal princess and an adventurous pirate and happens to love science and all things outer space — a lot like a little girl we know. (smile) As parents, it is important to us to nurture Selah and our younger daughter Syrai’s dreams and foster an atmosphere where they feel free to imagine, dream and create. The “secret to our sauce”, so to speak — what really distinguishes us from others in our field — is actually a pretty simple concept. We truly do everything from a child’s perspective, getting our children’s input every step of the way from conception to execution to review and modification, empowering our children to share their vision and their voices with the world. Our family businesses have been a labor of love. It has not been easy, but it has been worth it. We attribute the satisfaction and success of our endeavors to our re-imagined definition of success — that which brings our family joy and simultaneously has a positive impact in the world. We have learned 3 primary lessons: (1) Let It Go. – Let go of societal constructs and follow your family’s collective heart. (2) Do It Together. – Have fun creating amazing stuff together and release it to the world. (3) Make It Count. – Create stuff and do work that has an impact, and find a way to make it sustainable.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Atlanta is an amazing city with so much rich history and culture, and we could not think of a better place to plant our roots. We love the breadth of all that Atlanta has to offer. There are so many gems in our city that we would love to share with our best friends visiting from out of town, but if when had to limit to a few, they would be the following: Atlanta BeltLine: We love how the BeltLine connects our beautiful city. We would take our friends on a BeltLine tour to give them an intimate view of the heart of Atlanta’s intown neighborhoods that we love so much. Original Paschal’s Motor Hotel & Restaurant: Paschal’s was once the epicenter of the civil rights movement, where Dr. King, his team and guests would meet to eat, plan, rest and strategize; but so many people do not even know of it or its significance. Some of the work for the 1963 March on Washington and the 1964 Civil Rights Act took place right there at Paschal’s. Martin & Coretta King’s family home: 234 Sunset Ave NW, Atlanta, GA 30314. The Atlanta home where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his family lived during much of the 1960’s is another historic landmark few in Atlanta know about. Cascade Springs Nature Preserve: The 120 acres of green space with hiking trails, a tumbling waterfall, a wildlife-filled forest, trickling springs and endless streams is a hidden gem in the heart of our beautiful bustling city.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
We want to dedicate our shoutout to Plywood People, a nonprofit in Atlanta leading a community of start-ups doing good, helping those start-ups launch good ideas in community. It was under the guidance and support of Plywood People that we began to see a bigger landscape and a greater reach for our ideas that had already taken form. We became part of a community of others like us who felt compelled to carve their own path and called to do life with purpose and passion. We would also like to give a shoutout to John Jarrett and Atlanta Leadership Club for their unwavering support, from helping us with the formation of our nonprofit to being our first investor to helping us sell books and get kids excited about them.
Trenton Brown John Stephens