Author Wally Amos’ provocative book cover caught my attention. Why in the heck was he flaunting an old stereotype – an illustration of his grinning brown face deliciously poised over a slice of fore bitten watermelon – I wondered? For more than a decade, his famous face beamed from grocery store shelves on glossy packages of his popular chocolate chip cookies, as if the CEO behind the multimillion dollar cookie enterprise had nary a care in the world. Somewhere along his journey, he’d relinquished his Famous Amos moniker (signature straw hat and cotton shirt were donated to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in 1980) and began penning his thoughts about the luscious red melon. Why? Wanting a straight answer I went directly to the source: “Dear Mr. Amos: I have always enjoyed your cookies and been inspired by your business success story. However, I was taken aback when I saw the dust jacket for your new book Watermelon Credo . . . . I can't help but wonder why there are so many recycled stereotypical images of Africans and African Americans cropping up in the 21st century.” I emailed, as cinematic caricatures danced in my head.
The next morning, to my surprise, Amos responded, asking if we might talk about a topic he thought too important to entrust to an email exchange. For a hour, the former William Morris agent and I talked, adamantly at times, about image, identity and stereotypes, not always in agreement, but with mutual respect and concern about how African Americans are characterized in popular cultural; his business pursuits, and his work promoting literacy through his The Read it LOUD! Foundation (www.readitloud.org).
A marketing savvy entrepreneur and motivational speaker, Amos knows the power of an image. Growing up in Tallahassee, Florida, when Jim Crow was the law, he also understands and anticipated the backlash featuring a fruit associated with the denigration of African Americans (stereotyping can be so incredibly outlandish). An offended school principal once removed a copy of his Watermelon Credo poster from a classroom. “It is okay for anyone who loves watermelon (which he does) to eat watermelon, privately or publicly. No one can tell you what you can eat or what you should believe,” he told me; a sentiment expressed in Watermelon Credo: The Book (the concept first appeared in poster format) and Watermelon Magic: Seeds of Wisdom, Slices of Life. Tracing the “offensive” imagery to its source, Amos writes, “It seems that the opprobrium regarding blacks and watermelons dates back to a time when ex-slaves were seen eating watermelon on rural roadsides while polite white society ate their watermelon off plates in the parlor or out of picnic hampers in the park. The noted East Coast printmakers Currier & Ives depicted these roadside sights in the 1880s, and the early twentieth century Our Gang film comedies carried them forward.” He continues, “No matter who you are or what you’ve been through, you can create your own belief system and live an inspiring life.” And keep thriving in the face of tremendous change, he could have added. He’s hoping to dispel the stereotype and impart a bit of knowledge while writing about the luscious fruit.
At the conclusion of our trans-Pacific phone call, Amos promised to ship samples of his latest baking venture, Chip and Cookie Cookies, along with copies of his two personal growth titles. It’s taken a while for me to get back to them, but the time seems ripe to share his watermelon mnemonic and uplifting philosophy for navigating life’s inevitable challenges. I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling in need of some post-election/fiscal cliff positivity. So, here goes.
Watermelon Credo: The Book
Drawing from his personal experiences, positive belief system and lifelong love for watermelon, Wally Amos shares his inspirational credo for staying positive when faced with personal, financial and physical challenges in a colorfully illustrated mnemonic based on his popular wall poster. In the chapter titles, he spells out his recipe for acquiring and maintaining a positive attitude regardless of life’s vicissitudes:
Whatever you believe creates your reality.
Attitude is the magic word.
Together everyone achieves more.
Enthusiasm is the wellspring of life.
Respect yourself, as well as others.
Make commitments, not excuses.
Every day can be a fun day.
Love is the answer.
One day at a time.
Never give up or become a victim.
For readers who may not share the author’s fondness for watermelon, he encourages them to choose their own objects, outlining principles for each letter for daily review and inspiration.
Watermelon Magic: Seeds of Wisdom, Slices of Life
Using watermelon as a metaphor for the magic of life, Wally Amos’ soul-bearing, self-help book is a prescription for being happy in the midst of change; something he knows quite a bit about. With a foreword by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen (Chicken Soup for the Soul authors), this heartfelt, upbeat biographical brief is bulleted with quotes and thoughtful Wallymelon Lessons based on his extraordinary experiences as the founder and CEO of the $250 million-a-year Famous Amos designer cookie empire and how his enterprise began to crumble under his management. Amos’ instructs readers to make their own decisions based on personal preferences and beliefs and not to be “duped by stereotypes circulated by racists and bigots for the purpose of oppressing people of other races, religions, and cultures.” Bottom line: “It is not all right for other people to tell you what is right for you.” Wise words from an affable entrepreneur, a passionate man with seemingly unflappable optimism.
Both books are quick and refreshing reads. Succulent offerings for the soul.