Alabama family created anti-racist library to promote racial justice and the importance of diversity in reading

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Berthiaume couldn’t help but think of Floyd, his loved ones, and the black community, as nationwide protests and demands for justice were often met with what she said was racism and blatant ignorance.

After talking with his family about the role they could play in promoting racial justice in their community in Homewood, Alabama, an idea was born.

“Our library was closed due to Covid, but I noticed that racial justice books were high on bestseller lists,” Berthiaume, 43, told CNN. “We thought that opening a small anti-racist library back home could be a way to make these critically important books accessible to people in our region. We also wanted all the children who came to see themselves represented in the books we offered. “

The mother of three – Emma, ​​Owen and Lily – and her husband built a small bookcase from discarded red drawers. They added a roof and painted it, finalizing it with the words “Antiracist Little Library” on the side.

Then the family got to work, researching and finding books on racial justice, stories with main characters of color, and titles written by authors of color.

After purchasing hundreds of books for children, teens and adults, the library was ready and open to anyone looking for knowledge – or just a good story where not all the characters are white, Berthiaume said.

“The response has been incredible. I would estimate that around 320 to 350 pounds have been recovered,” she said. “Our neighbors have all been very supportive. A lot of people have stopped by to say that they love to visit and are happy to have the library in the neighborhood.”

“Racism is absolutely inescapable”

When Ashley Jones found out that her book, “Reparations Now!” Was included in the Antiracist Little Library, she felt a surge of hope.

Jones, a poet laureate from Alabama, is the first and youngest person of color to hold the post, according to Dean Bonner, historian at the Alabama Writers Cooperative.

“As a black woman in America, racism is absolutely inescapable. It shows up in all the little places and all the big places and all the places you don’t expect. Sometimes it’s in a textbook. Sometimes it is. in a handbag grabbed as I pass, sometimes it’s an issue on my hair, my skin, “Jones told CNN.

“If someone thinks that we have even come close to solving the problems of racism and discrimination, they are wrong. If I am afraid to go for a run, go buy a snack, go to sleep in my own bed behind my own locked door , we are not done working yet, ”she said, referring to the recent high profile killings of unarmed blacks.

But the library and the inclusion of his book were like a sign – a small indication that at least part of the world is ready for change.

“Repairs now! Is a collection of poems about the black experience and the demand for reparations from the black descendants of those enslaved in the United States.

“We need to recognize the wrongs done and done, we need empathy and release, we need to have tough conversations,” Jones said. “I let poetry guide me as I reflected on and lived my experiences with racism and discrimination as a black woman in America.”

While the shelves of the small anti-racist library are teeming with stories like his, they also contain books aimed at helping people discover their prejudices and privileges, like “How to Be an Anti-Racist” by Ibram X. Kendi.

“This library is important because it can maybe show people that some of the tangible steps to doing the inner work needed to fight prejudice and racism can include reading. And it can start in the community,” Jones said. .

“I hope this Homewood library can show other suburban areas that it is their responsibility to engage in anti-racism,” she said. “And that books are a start – the knowledge gained can then be used in the world beyond the book.”

All the books in the library were stolen – twice

One morning in August 2020, the Berthiaume family walked past their small anti-racist library and discovered that all the books had been stolen overnight.

“I had completely filled the box the day before,” said Berthiaume. “It was really shocking and disappointing. We didn’t know their intentions, but we are the only small library in our area to be stolen.”

After posting an article about the theft on their Instagram page, the family received over 400 donated books and around $ 1,500 to purchase more.

“We started the library with just enough books to fill it, and now we have full storage space so we can always fill the library when it’s nearly empty,” said Berthiaume. “The books were all picked up a few weeks ago, but this time we were able to refill it immediately.”

When these parents couldn't find children's books with strong black characters, they set up a pop-up store to sell them.

“It was a great lesson for our kids to see that while one person did something destructive, there were a lot more people who wanted to help and build the library,” she said.

In December, the library became an official partner of the nonprofit group Little Free Library, which provides public libraries in the United States for book sharing within communities.

After Floyd’s death, the organization launched its own initiative, “Read in Color”, to ensure that its mini-libraries include various authors, stories, and characters.

The initiative kicked off in October 2020 in the Twin Cities of Minnesota with the addition of 7,000 books that celebrate various identities, including Black, Muslim, Native American and LGBTQ voices.

So far, over 30,000 various books have been distributed to over 100 small free libraries across the country.

“We are delighted to see people across the country being brought in to share various books in their communities – both those who are part of the Little Free Library network and those who are not,” Margret Aldrich told CNN, spokesperson for Little Free Library. .

“The diversity of books is vital,” she said. “Everyone deserves to see themselves in the pages of a book, and everyone can learn from perspectives other than their own.”


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