‘Beyond Us,’ the story of the struggle to fit in
ROCHESTER — Aaron Polansky’s daughter asked him to borrow money to go shopping with her friends, not because she wanted to buy anything, but because she didn't want to be the one girl in her friend group without any money. The request made Polansky reflect on his own struggles and insecurities, and other common insecurities, reflections that culminated in the writing of ‘Beyond Us,’ an illustrated book that encourages inclusion, diversity, and passion.
As the Superintendent-Director of Old Colony Regional Vocational Technical High School, Polansky immediately thought about Rin Rezendes, a talented yet quiet Graphic Design student who “hid behind his hair” for inspiration for the book.
Beyond Us is self-reflective and tells the story of how it was created, as well as the experiences of Rezendes, Polansky, and his daughter. After sending a draft to publishing company, DBC Inc Books, a publishing company he had worked with on a previous book, Polansky had one condition: Rezendes had to be the illustrator.
The 17-year-old artist from Lakeville starts his illustrations with traditional paper drawings, and then scans them on a computer and uses the software program Paint Tool SAI to complete his work. Resendes describes his art style as “semi-realistic,” said he has been drawing since he could hold a pencil, and knew he wanted to become an illustrator around the third or fourth grade.
The illustrations for Beyond Us are filled with nuance and subtlety. Darker moments in the story are drawn in black and white. Moments with friendship and positivity bloom in full color. Various forms of diversity are represented through symbols on characters' clothing. A bracelet with the LGBTQ+ rainbow can be found in one illustration, and the puzzle piece symbol for autism in another.
Illustrating ‘Beyond Us’ gave Rezendes an opportunity to both hone his craft, and persevere through his struggles with anxiety and depression. Polansky said the student artist was visibly nervous when he handed in his first illustration for the book, but gained confidence as time went on.
He added that “the harder we work at something, the more likely we are to impact others.” The creation of ‘Beyond Us’ is an example of Polansky’s philosophy of “passion-based learning” which allows students to focus on what truly matters to them.
One of Polansky’s goals for Beyond Us is to encourage others to talk about diversity and inclusion. “This book will be a tool at every middle school in America,” he said.
Rezendes said that his goal for the book is to show diversity and make others feel like they are not alone.
In addition to their own experiences, Polansky and Rezendes drew inspiration from Reverend Eston Williams’ quote, “at the end of the day, I’d rather be excluded for who I include, than included for who I exclude.”
Rezendes rarely speaks in class, but spoke in front of a 90-person crowd about the book, and will join Polansky as a closing keynote speakers of the Building Our Leaders of Tomorrow (BOLT) conference in Orlando on June 30. A tentative publishing date for ‘Beyond Us’ has been set for July 17, 2019.