A little over a year ago, I had the opportunity to travel to St. Louis, Missouri with Howard's Alternative Spring Break program. When we first got to Normandy High, the school I was assigned to volunteer at for the week, we sat down and had a conversation with their librarian about her experience at the school. She explained that when she first started working there, she felt the books in the school's library did not accurately reflect the predominately Black student body. She said, in addition to the fact that most books now are written below the reading level they were at when I was in high school, it would be hard for these students to truly see themselves reflected in the stories they read. What stood out to me the most though, is that the librarian was a white woman. A white woman felt like there wasn't enough books about Black folks in the library she worked in. She said most of them included the typical stories about slavery and Civil Rights Era icons like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks, which echoed similar sentiments in author Denene Millner's New York Times piece, "Black Kids Don't Want to Read about Harriet Tubman All the Time."
At that moment, I got the idea to do some type of book drive for Normandy on behalf of Howard students (this was about a month before I started working on Better to Speak) in which all the books we collected would be by Black authors and about Black people. I sat on it for a while and ultimately decided to collect books for local DC organizations-- mainly due to the fact that I hadn't thought about shipping costs-- which lead me to Reading Partners DC.
In short, I'm grateful for the support The Book Drive received and I couldn't be happier with how the first major initiative of Better to Speak turned out. This was the first time I've really ventured out to partner with other organizations or ask people to volunteer (or to help in any capacity in general), and the support means the absolute world to me. My main goal with BTS is to create more opportunities for Black people to share our stories in hopes to inspire one another and strengthen our community.
However, it's one thing to create a bunch of content and hope for people's support and another to actually have a positive impact and build a tangible community. Being able to put more positive and inspiring images of Black people in front of DC youth while simultaneously supporting Black authors' work was definitely the most rewarding part of all of this. It was also extremely important to me to, albeit for a few hours, take some time to volunteer with and tutor Reading Partners' students. I'm extremely grateful for my girls who joined me at City Arts + Prep that day and I honestly cannot wait to volunteer with RP again in the future!
We were able to collect over 30 books to make two separate donations to Reading Partners DC and Girls Inc. DC. Thank you to the authors who generously donated their work to support this initiative, to ABRAMS Books for their donation and to everyone who donated their children's books! Make sure to follow Better to Speak on Twitter and Instagram for future updates and announcements!