'Queer Eye' star Karamo Brown helped his sons survive bullying with words every parent should memorize

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After watching Karamo Brown's deep, cathartic conversations with people on Queer Eye, or catching one of his inspirational Instagram posts, you can imagine how great it must have been to grow up with him as a father. But things weren't always easy for his sons, Chris and Jason “Rachel” Brown.

"He used to just come home say things like, 'I don't want to be me, I wish I was someone else, I wish I had a different life,' and as a parent, that broke my heart," Brown said when he and Jason stopped by the Build Series to promote their new book, I Am Perfectly Designed ($14.52 on Amazon).

A few years after starring on The Real World: Philadelphia and becoming the first openly gay black man on reality TV, Karamo found out that he had a 9-year-old son from a high school relationship. He eventually adopted Jason and his younger half-brother Chris. Suddenly, instead of leading the wild life of a reality-TV star, he became a social worker and single dad. That didn't exactly make the family rich. At times, Karamo said he had to choose between buying gas for his car and giving his kids money for lunch.

Their lack of money, as well as having a gay father, made Jason a target of bullies.

"I would say to him, 'You are blessed and you are perfect just the way you are,' as a reminder that you have been given so much and you should be appreciative and know that you're enough," Karamo said. "I know that the world will try to tear you down, but if you can say to yourself, 'I am perfectly designed,' maybe it can quiet out some of those negative messages."

Karamo turned back to that mantra when he got the offer to write a children's book, and he also turned back to the boy who inspired him to come up with it. He has, after all, been training Jason to be his coauthor for more than 10 years.

"When I was like, 12, 13, on top of my homework that I used to get from school, this man would make me come home and do his own personal homework," Jason recalled. "I'm saying he would literally make me write novels ... long books."

I Am Perfectly Designed, by Karamo and Jason "Rachel" Brown, is a BUILD Book Club pick. $14.52 on Amazon.
I Am Perfectly Designed, by Karamo and Jason "Rachel" Brown, is a BUILD Book Club pick. $14.52 on Amazon.

Shop It: I Am Perfectly Designed, $14.52 on Amazon

The book shows a black father enjoying time with his young son — a rarity in children's books and most other media — and the illustrations by Anoosha Syed also include other types of people and families featuring a variety of races and sexual orientations.

"We made sure that people from all walks of life are represented in the book because I wanted some young kid who was in suburban Iowa or rural Iowa to be like, 'Oh, I might not see a person of color next door, but if I open this book look here they are, and they're sweet and they're beautiful and I want to learn more about who they are,' versus, maybe being fed this narrative that you should be afraid of someone who's different," Karamo explained.

After reaching so many adults through Queer Eye (not to mention Dancing With the Stars) Karamo is happy to send this message of self-love to children who've never heard it.

"A lot of kids are told, they're better off seen not heard, so they silence their voices," he said. "And to hear these kids when we were at this book reading the other day, say, 'It's okay for me to say that I like me?' Yeah, it's okay to say you like you, and that's something we should all practice."

Shop It: I Am Perfectly Designed, $14.52 on Amazon