Khalil Munir is currently a drama instructor at Delaware Valley Friends School. He is an award-winning actor, dancer, teaching artist, and producer. Growing up, Munir faced many challenges, including dyslexia. His books are autobiographical and center on the childhood experience of dyslexia.
FOCUS: On the back cover of each book, you have a list of adversities that include difficulties in addition to dyslexia. How did you come to decide to share this personal information and to be open about your dyslexia?
Munir: Letting [the dyslexia] go and turning it on its head gives you the courage to wear your crown and find your superpower. Having the courage to embrace this part of me and sharing it with the world means that it can’t be used as a weapon against me. Why not share all of me? Then, I can stand in my purpose.
FOCUS: In the stories, Malik, the main character, lives in a supportive environment at home and at school except for his fellow students. How much do peers’ comments affect a child’s self-image?
Munir: It has a huge impact. Thinking you are less than is cemented into your head by being called “stupid” or “dumb.” Going to the LD classroom down the hall says you are different and not good enough. Kids hold onto those thoughts and ideas as they go out into the world. A child can’t recognize his or her own superpower. When a child can’t see it, the village is there to remind him of his greatness. My teachers have been there for me for years. My mother listened to my teachers and said, “Whatever you can do for Khalil that is good, do it.” My arts village is important. Delaware Valley Friends School is another important village. They have all pushed me in the right direction.
FOCUS: I love the idea of the crown that appears and disappears throughout Malik’s day. Where did the idea for the crown come from?
Munir: Malik means “king.” My name is long, and kids made fun of it. It is Khalil Abdul Malik Raheem Munir. I came to be proud of my name and wanted my main character’s name to reflect the meaning of the message. A king needs a crown. It is empowering. With a crown comes responsibility. “Heavy is the head that wears the crown.” Malik moves from not having courage to speaking out loud about his dyslexia. There is a power in speaking out loud and not being ashamed about it. I know how to advocate for myself. I know how to accomplish goals. It may not always be the way society wants or expects, but I’m ok with that. I want to encourage people to wear their crowns unapologetically knowing the weight of the crown can still be heavy.
FOCUS: Have you read these stories to your students? If so, how did they respond?
Munir: I would like to set up a reading for them. Some of the students have seen it, and some of my fellow teachers have copies and share with the students. The response has been amazing. They say things like “I’m dyslexic too” or “I want to use my superpower.”
FOCUS: The last book focuses on Malik’s transition to a small, private school for dyslexia and other learning difficulties. Why is it important for Malik to make this transition and for the reader to walk with him through the transition?
Munir: This transition captures a unique experience. Some kids in South Philly have train friends, kids who travel from the city to the suburbs. The train was like a portal from one environment to the next. I would wake up at 5 a.m. to leave our modest house and take two trains to arrive at school at 7:30. It was a difficult transition in the beginning. I needed to learn to navigate affluence. I had no idea I was poor until I came to school. I had fun as a kid in my neighborhood. There was a lot of love in my neighborhood. Sometimes, as a child, affluence can make you feel less than. In this part of the story, I wanted to spotlight this challenge and Malik’s mother’s guidance. When Malik returns home from school and is struggling through the transition, his mother tells him, “Remember who you are wherever you go. Love yourself by holding your head up.” Then, Malik is able to help others as well.
FOCUS: While these books are valuable to anyone experiencing dyslexia, the message reaches out to Black children experiencing learning difficulties. How might a Black child experience a learning difficulty differently than other peers?
Munir: These stories are for everyone, anyone who is dyslexic, parents, teachers, and for people who are not dyslexic so they can begin to understand the effect it has on a child and the journey. Parents and teachers’ support is so important. Teachers need to be accountable. Part of their job is to walk with students through those learning difficulties and say, “Even at your lowest moment, I’m here for you.”
The Black community is not monolithic. The experience is different from family to family. My experience was different because of moving from home to home and dealing with my father’s incarceration on top of dyslexia. I can’t speak to everyone’s experience. I can say that I want the Black community to be more open about hidden disabilities and neurodiversity. Kids don’t have tools to self-advocate. I want to encourage the conversation to be had. I also want Black boys and girls to see themselves in literature and as main characters, who are not coming from places of hardship or lack.
FOCUS: Your decision to support the dyslexic community through teaching and writing is so valuable. What are things that you do to empower and encourage your students with learning difficulties?
Munir: I do affirmations with them. Affirmations are powerful. I say them to my son and to myself every day. When my students come into class, they have to say the password which is “I respect myself.” I respond with “You are beautiful.” At the end of class, we say “I am a human being filled with love and dignity, and no one can take my space. I’ll remove the negative. I’ll bring in the positive. What I believe, I can achieve. Yes, I can!” I’ve been saying this affirmation every day since I was eleven when I learned it from the Freedom Theater. It has been carrying me, and hopefully, it will carry my students.
FOCUS: Can you share any other upcoming projects or performances that our readers can look out for?
Munir: I hope to begin performing at the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History. I perform a one-man show called One Pound Four Ounces because that’s how much I weighed when I was born. Through acting and dance, I go from my birth to the birth of my son. The show had to be closed due to the pandemic, but I hope to have it back soon. I also would like to see the Crown is Yours become an animated series so the story can be available in more than one format.
Khalil Munir’s books The Crown is Yours are available for purchase at