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Social Impact Authors: How & Why Sabbithry Persad Is Helping To Change Our World

An Interview With Edward Sylvan

I think What Is Coronavirus? can make an impact in several ways. First, this pandemic has caused a great deal of alarm for everyone. This book aims to turn down some of the volumes of that alarm by addressing the informational and emotional fires that cause the alarm — whether that’s demystifying the unknown by explaining well-known concepts about viruses that, until now, had been mostly of interest to scientists like virologists and microbiologists, or providing a bigger historical picture that we can fight and beat this virus by showing how previous pandemics ended, or even acknowledging that there are a number of effects on mental health and providing examples to readers on how they can turn the anxiety or other negative emotion into positive thoughts and actions.

As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Sabbithry Persad.

Sabbithry Persad is a writer who tackles issues we face in the global community. Persad is the author of the Garbology Kids® waste management series for children, which includes Where Do Recyclable Materials Go?, Operation: Reuse It!, and We Can Reduce: Precycle It! She is the founder of Firewater Media Group and Green Solutions Magazine. Her new book is, What Is Coronavirus? How It Infects, How It Spreads, and How to Stay Safe (Firewater Media Group, Oct. 1, 2021). Learn more at firewatermediagroup.com.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

As far back as I can remember, I’ve always had an interest in the arts, music, drawing, books, writing and so on. I specifically remember playfully writing song lyrics at the age of eight or so. Later on, during my early to mid-teens that writing interest elevated into a personal expression with poetry, which led to competing in the language arts showcase and my first professional writing award for a poem I wrote.

The desire to creatively express stories impacted me the most, and in later projects, a wish to share them contributed to my career path. After working on my first book and getting overwhelmingly positive feedback from the public, it confirmed that my work as a writer and publisher could be the catalyst to help others.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

Back when I started Firewater Media Group in 2007, my approach came with a lot of stigma from many in traditional publishing. And rightly so since the market had been rife with subpar books with poor editing and design, homemade covers, and light content. Some people published anything. As a result, for a long time, there were myths that books not published by a traditional publisher were poorly produced or were of poor quality and sold no copies. In this era, one had to be bold and fearless to represent author publishing in a positive way. To counter that stigma, I spent the time, effort, and money producing professional books that address social issues and add value to people’s lives.

Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?

I think What Is Coronavirus? can make an impact in several ways. First, this pandemic has caused a great deal of alarm for everyone. This book aims to turn down some of the volumes of that alarm by addressing the informational and emotional fires that cause the alarm — whether that’s demystifying the unknown by explaining well-known concepts about viruses that, until now, had been mostly of interest to scientists like virologists and microbiologists, or providing a bigger historical picture that we can fight and beat this virus by showing how previous pandemics ended, or even acknowledging that there are a number of effects on mental health and providing examples to readers on how they can turn the anxiety or other negative emotion into positive thoughts and actions.

Another important social impact is to help people change habits by understanding how this virus if they are infected, will affect them physically. This virus is microscopic and can only be seen using an electron microscope. Using detailed illustrations to give the reader a tangible image of how the virus enters the body, travels through the respiratory system, and affects the lungs helps readers to visualize what they otherwise couldn’t see with the naked eye. Many of the stories we heard in the beginning from several people included the words “invisible enemy.” Giving the invisible enemy an image and showing step by step how it harms the body can open eyes. That’s a powerful thing that might change minds — and hopefully behavior.

Other social impacts that I hope this book can introduce people to, aside from the common health, economic and education impacts, are social and environmental effects. At the beginning of this pandemic, we heard news that the virus affected the elderly and people of color more, but some of the stories that might not have made major headlines include the effects on people with disabilities, indigenous people, and those living in poverty. Similarly, the effects on the environment have also been under the radar. Issues like improper disposal of personal protective equipment like masks cause pollution in our lakes and rivers and can harm the natural wildlife that depends on those environments.

What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?

After listening to the myriad of news outlets report on SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19, and having a little insight about what a possible future might bring with a pandemic, I felt I needed a way to understand the virus more than what was presented in the media and empower myself with the science about this complex topic. But, because this was a novel virus and scientists, too, were also learning about it for the first time, data on the Internet wasn’t in abundance at the start of the pandemic. That’s when I began to write What Is Coronavirus?

Writing the book became a daily activity, searching for and sifting through information amid the myriad of factual, mis- and disinformation. Nonetheless, as I put the pieces together and filled in the gaps in information seen in the media, the science became more clear. Writing the science in nonmedical and nonscientific laymen language helped me to help my family and friends grasp the facts about the virus. So, I continued to write. After 10 months of writing, I decided to present the data visually so it could be more inviting and accessible to older and younger family members who weren’t as passionate about a text-based book. Following another six months of trying to marry text with illustrations, this book was born.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Public health education plays a crucial role in the prevention and control of infectious diseases, but how health providers advise families or parents to obtain health education information seems to be a challenge. Organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) currently educate health care professionals and the public through their website campaigns, but those campaigns mostly focus on increasing confidence in COVID-19 vaccines and basic prevention measures. In the current health emergency environment to vaccinate the population, health education about the virus is somewhat neglected.

One thing the community, society and politicians can do to help address the root problem is to inform the public about infectious diseases in general. Strengthening what people already know and improving on that could boost people’s knowledge, attitude and practice to prevent the COVID-19 disease.

Another thing that can be done would be to come together and focus on the scientific facts about the virus and pandemic, but in the current state of affairs, I know that seems like a tall order.

Lastly, addressing mis- and disinformation and improving access to more reliable information would be high on the list. With so many pieces of false or over-reported information out there that are circulating on the Internet and in other media, having a strategy to counter misleading information while highlighting reliable information could improve attitudes about infectious diseases, and specifically this virus.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

For me, leadership means something different in different situations. In a setting overseeing others, leadership might mean knowing your team and their capabilities and ensuring they’re informed and their needs such as training, coaching, and personal issues are addressed and their directives are clear.

Other situations that might call for different leadership definitions would be political office, family, and emergency situations.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. Trust your vision. In any business, there will be many people who don’t understand your vision the way you see it because it’s not something that they can see themselves. If you know your path to success, carefully analyze the risk, and if the outcome falls strongly in your favor, go for it.

2. Iterate, iterate, iterate. Don’t give up if your original vision fails. Sometimes your vision might be a great one, but the plan might need tweaking or forces such as natural disasters, the economy and politics that surround the execution of this vision may be beyond your control. Test your plan and understand the landscape then go back to the drawing board to revise the vision, strategy and plan. Do this as often as necessary.

3. Endure in the face of obstacles. In any venture, there will be obstacles small and large. How you respond to those obstacles and overcome them will determine if your venture moves forward or succeeds in the long term.

4. Seek out a mentor and critique groups. Sometimes working on your vision 24/7 may be all-consuming and lead to myopia. A mentor who understands your vision and is as passionate as you are can be a sounding board to provide guidance. Similarly, critique groups can ask tough questions that identify gaps or weak points in your vision. Both can help to propel your vision to the next level.

5. Plan and execute regularly. No matter what life or the competition throws at you, plan everything and follow through on your plan. When you achieve your goals, set new plans and execute on them. Your vision isn’t static, it changes. Keeping up with new changes around your venture will keep you ahead of the game.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote?” Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“The path from dreams to success does exist. May you have the vision to find it, the courage to get on to it, and the perseverance to follow it.”

— Kalpana Chawla, Astronaut and Engineer

It’s relevant in my life because I believe that we all can find that path from our dreams to success if we pursue it.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

My choice is Arianna Huffington, author and international media mogul who started the award-winning news platform, The Huffington Post. I appreciate her decision to not follow the beaten path and instead to pave her own journey.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Readers can follow me on LinkedIn and Twitter. Follow Firewater Media Group activities and the latest updates on Facebook and Twitter. You can also visit us online at www.firewatermediagroup.com. We’d love to have your readers join our online community!

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!


Social Impact Authors: How & Why Sabbithry Persad Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.