“Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection, we can see our own lives and experiences as part of a larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books” – Rudine Sims Bishop
It has been over 30 years since Rudine Sims Bishop’s essay on the need for more books written by and about Black and Indigenous people of color. Those words ring as true today as they did then. As part of their ongoing commitment to amplify diverse voices, Bank of America has partnered with Friends of the Children-Portland on a book project for our youth. In late August, Bank of America generously purchased a wide variety of K-12th grade appropriate books written by BIPOC authors. All these books were purchased from a local Black-owned bookstore, Third Eye Books and Gifts. Those books were added to every Back to School care package, ensuring that every youth in our program received a brand-new book to read at the start of the school year.
When asked why these books are so important to his youth, mentor Joe Parnell answered, “My roster is comprised mostly of youth that identify as White, Indigenous or Latinx. The books that I picked up centered the experience of Black people and most of them focused on anti-racism. I think it is critically important that we engage youth in a variety of ways about equity, because youth are already receiving so many varied messages that stereotype, minoritize, misrepresent the realities of life for Black, African American, and African people. These conversations are not just for Black people, rather they are for every person to engage with in our society, especially those that have historically only benefitted from the realities of racism. Many of my youth will be reading these books with me during our remote outings.”
For our youth, it is so meaningful to be able to find themselves in the pages they are reading. Mentor Lauren Kresta shared some perspective from her youth, “One of my girls who is 13 and has been extremely disconnected during COVID-19 especially, and honestly doesn’t even like reading, said her favorite gift I gave her in her birthday box were the BIPOC books. They are relatable, interesting and she can see herself reflected for once in what the authors write. She is African American and lives in North Portland. Another one of my girls is 8, doesn’t know how to read and told me her favorite thing in her back to school box was the books. They are pretty and show girls that look like her and have similar experiences!”
In addition to the Bank of America Book Project, Friends of the Children-Portland also received a generous donation of books in the spring of 2020 from The Big Yard Foundation, founded by Brennan Scarlett, a local Central Catholic High School alum and professional NFL player for the Houston Texans. Brennan grew up in North Portland and wanted to give back to the community and inspire young people to share his lifelong love of reading. This wonderful organization has partnered with Friends of the Children-Portland for the last two years by providing free Scholastic books for our youth in elementary school. Last year, we co-hosted a Books & Ballers event with high school, college and professional athletes on hand to read and do activities with our youth. This year, because of COVID-19, The Big Yard Foundation shipped the books to us just in time to add to one of the first care packages we sent to our youth. In addition, staff from Vision Capital provided books and bookmarks to our middle and high school youth with inspirational quotes from Black authors.
These books are windows, mirrors, and doors for our youth to see themselves and others in a new light and see new possibilities. As mentor Carliss Holland stated, “Book representation matters for our kids. And the books we give them help to show them as Leaders, Heroes, Princesses, and more. It’s so important.”