Writer David Barclay Moore worked for eight years for the New York-based anti-poverty nonprofit, Harlem Children’s Zone. His work involved shooting short-form videos that told stories about the people the group was seeking to help. This experience helped him to understand, first hand, the challenges faced by many of the people living in concentrated pockets of public housing.
"It would just always amaze me that these kids who were so enthusiastic and lively, at the same time would be going through so much trauma in their lives. And were so resilient that they were able to maintain, and thrive - which is not easy," says Moore.
This work provided the underpinnings of his new middle grade novel set in and around a public housing development in Harlem. The Stars Beneath Our Feet tells the story of Lolly, a boy whose passion for building with Legos helps him cope in the wake of his brother’s death from gun violence.
In addition to the main character's interest in architecture, it's also about his budding friendship with a girl who may have autism that helps Lolly the most, more so than the social worker who is assigned to his case.
"Mental health issues within the African American community are very important, very serious. I think it's something that we as a community don't address and don't take seriously," says Moore. "But that being said, the mental health therapy that is delivered to Lolly in this book is not the best...That whole journey the (he) takes with the therapist is a faulty journey, but I think it's one that is worth taking a look at."
He notes that the profound effect Lolly's hobby and his friends have on him is an example of how creativity can help someone heal after a traumatic event - something that he can attest to personally.
"Part of the reason why I wrote the book is because I was dealing with the death of my own brother in real life," Moore explains. "For me, writing this book as a creative act was very therapeutic for me. It helped kind of heal me in a lot of ways."
He says that there is an intentional connection between how Lolly and his friends approach their creativity in the novel and how it heals them. "I really strongly believe in the healing power of art. So much art is being kind of sapped away...in a lot of aspects of society, and I think it definitely is something we need to remember and realize its importance because it's really powerful stuff."