Dyeneka Campa and three young kids (two boys, one girl) holding her book "Leo, The Fearless and Furless Lion."

By Abby Humbel ‘21

Three UMD alumni; Maya Dawit ‘15, Brandon Schatt ‘15 and Azsanee Truss ‘15 are the authors and hosts of Diet Starts Monday, a podcast where the three “talk about whatever nonsense is on [their] minds at the time.” As a senior in college, I am working on navigating my twenties, and the speakers of this podcast use a laid back voice to unpack life. I took the opportunity to speak with Maya Dawit and when asked how the show got started she said, “It came together when the other two hosts (two of my closest friends), and I were just on the phone having one of our usual catch up sessions and we thought ‘Why don't we record these?’ The first season mainly focused on highlighting the various obstacles that life may throw at you in the years after college and then for the second season we really wanted to focus on people we either knew directly or through other connections who we felt totally had a handle on their 20s.”

From podcast episode 22, “Do What Scares You Most (ft. Dyeneka Campa),” Brandon and Azsanee catch up on the current happenings in the world, and talk all things literacy and higher ed with guest Dyeneka Campa. Dyeneka is a self-published author of a children’s book titled, "Leo, The Fearless and Furless Lion”. Dyeneka has a background working with troubled youth and teaching. She grew up with a learning disability, limiting her ability to read in elementary school and limiting her social circle as a child. She speaks about how she designed the book to develop literacy in children and even their parents who are reading to them, and how she did what “scared” her to get to the position she is in now. 

Here are my top 5 takeaways: 

Identities are Important 

Dyeneka puts an emphasis on the struggle she experienced being bullied as a child and feeling like an outsider. She names many identities of her own that set her apart from other children she attended school with and identities that still lead her to face discrimmination (being a biracial woman, having a learning disability, lower socioeconomic status, etc.). This was her main inspiration for her children’s book, where she chose a strong main character (Leo the Lion), but took away his mane so that he did not have the identifying factor that makes him “strong.” This lesson, although it is intended for children, speaks volumes to all of us because the bullying and unacceptance people face for their identities can make them want to pretend to be someone they are not. In her book,  Leo the Lion buys a fake lion mane wig to wear, but later realizes that not having a mane is what makes him unique. Without our different identities, society would not have as many great ideas or inspiration, and we must embrace what makes us stand out, as well as embracing the identities of all others. 

Your Impact Matters

Dyeneka mentions a reading specialist who came through for her in elementary school when she did not know how to read. This piece stuck out to me because it shows the lasting impact that our teachers, parents and other cheerleaders have on us. At the time of the podcast, Dyeneka was pursuing a master’s degree at Columbia University. Despite her learning disability and setback with reading, she was able to learn and move forward with her education because one reading specialist believed in her and helped her. We should remember that there are others who value our help more than we think, and we should be mindful to let the people in our own lives know how they have impacted us. By taking the time to build each other up we can all be more successful. 

Speaking Your Truth Can Help Others

One of the most admirable things about the children’s book Dyeneka wrote is the personal experience that inspired the story. Speaking about negative experiences in our lives is not easy to do, and it is often confusing when approaching a discussion about negative experiences, however there are many other people who are silent and share the same or similar struggles that you do. By speaking out about what is important to you there is more open communication for people who are battling internally to process these experiences. Dyeneka’s piece intends to send a message to children who are bullied because of their identities, and a message to the bullies about how they could be hurting others. This is a simplified lesson for children, but there is much to learn from the way Dyeneka spoke out and expressed her childhood experience. People resonate with stories that they relate to, and it helps them heal.

Believe in Your Strengths

Another struggle Dyeneka discusses was the hesitation she had to illustrate the book. She did not think she was a good enough artist to draw the images even though she has a love for and experience with art. She decided to ultimately illustrate it herself using Amazon CreateSpace. Dyeneka explains how challenging the illustration process was, but says she is so happy to have done it. She wrote the book in three weeks, but illustrating took her eleven months. It is easy to doubt our abilities, and I know that I can relate to this as a student who will soon be entering the working world. It is easy to downplay my abilities and convince myself that I am not qualified for a position in the “real adult world.” However, Dyeneka sends the message that challenging yourself and believing in your strengths will make the work you do so much more worth it.

Make the Move

Dyeneka grew up in a single parent household in LA, and uprooted her life to move to Columbia to pursue her master’s degree. She has been working since high school and gained a lot of independence since moving out at the age of 19. School became Dyeneka’s way of taking care of herself, and she transferred through several community colleges and navigated the system as well as possible, being a first generation college student. Speaking about the uncomfortability of her place in higher education and the way she moved away from home teaches the lesson that we should accept new challenges to build our lives and continue to grow. This is where the podcast title, “Do What Scares You Most,” really comes into play. Growth is not a comfortable process, and we should confront the challenges that are going to make us better.

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