SOUTH RIVER – In celebration of her entrepreneurship, Gigi Darko was given the 2022 Best of South River Award for her authorship and publication company.
According to a press release, the South River Award Program identifies companies that have measurable success in different business categories and community spaces. In addition, the annual program showcases candidates that exemplify the spirit, service, and positivity of small business in South River.
The press release states, “The South River Award Program is an annual awards program honoring the achievements and accomplishments of local businesses throughout the South River area. Recognition is given to those companies that have shown the ability to use their best practices and implemented programs to generate competitive advantages and long-term value.”
When first notified of her selection as the winner of the publishing category, Darko described herself as shocked.
For the Brooklyn, N.Y. native, the humble beginnings of her business simply began with a kind gesture. During the pandemic lockdowns, her eldest daughter asked if they could bake cornbread for the neighbors. Unknown to Darko, that simple, yet thoughtful, request would ultimately spark a literary flame that resulted in the creation of her first book.
“The pandemic hit and my eldest girl, bored to tears, asked if we could bake cornbread and share it with our neighbors. They had a little girl who lived across the street. A week later, our neighbors sent the pan back to us filled with cupcakes.
“It brought the kids so much joy and laughter, with the pan going back and forth and them not knowing what the other person would bake. When the world was going deaf with sorrow and pain, they were beaming with excitement. That day I walked upstairs and in 45 minutes I wrote my first self-published book,” she said.
Entitled “The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pan,” the children’s book would sell over 100 copies. According to Darko, her books are a reflection of her children and the youth she encounters as an assistant principal in New York City. She says the underlying theme of all her books are about “resiliency and overcoming different situations.”
Further inspired by the creative process and public feedback, Darko decided to start a publishing company – Notes Publishers. She stated that her motivations were twofold: to empower educators and to support her philanthropy work.
“My husband and I are building a library in an impoverished village in Ghana, West Africa. It is the first stand-alone library for elementary school students in that city. The books that I write support the philanthropy work.
“The other reason I opened up our publishing company is to empower educators like myself to write the stories of their dreams, without the obstacles of using a traditional publishing company. Our motto at Notes Publishers is, ‘We take you from notes to novels,’” she said.
Darko’s fascination with reading and writing began as an adolescent in elementary school. With strict parents, the library was on the shortlist of approved places for her to hangout. Amongst the peaceful silence and countless rows of books, she said she discovered her “happy magical place” and her voice.
“It was always my happy magical place. Librarians were my fairy godmothers, and the library was their castle. In my old neighborhood, in Brooklyn, the public library was a block away and it was there I found my voice as a student and eventually as an educator.
“I later worked at the St. Francis College library while I was a student there. As I promote literacy throughout my district and at the school I support in leading, I always remember to give students the magical experiences I had.
“My goal as an author is always to inspire and empower through literacy. The children of this world will always be my motivation and I will always be at service to them.”
For Darko, the unexpected award is not only a personal accomplishment, but a generational milestone for her ancestors and present-day family.
“I truly am honored and humbled. To think my great grandmother didn’t read books and now her great granddaughter not only writes them, but she publishes them and has one of her books installed in a museum.
“I am my ancestor’s dream. It is important for my children to continue to change their world and literacy is certainly a way to do it. The exposure this award gives Notes Publishers will allow us to generate more income that will support the library in Ghana, West Africa,” she said.