They’re educating themselves by any means necessary!
Black students are launching book clubs to help push back against state book bans, NBC News reports.
Recently, a national conversation around how U.S. history is taught in the classroom has sparked many conservative lawmakers to begin creating legislation that bans books about Black life and Black history in schools and libraries. While there is collective outrage, many parents and community organizers are coming together to fight against the racist laws. Students across the country are also stepping up to do their part.
Jaiden Johnson, a seventh grader at Meridian World School in Round Rock, Texas is co-founder of the Round Rock Black Students Book Club, a group he started alongside another Black middle schooler that holds virtual student-led discussions about books that students of color can read with characters that represent them.
The 12-year-old said he was inspired to start the group after his school library temporarily housed a section of banned books which became hot items among students.
“There was a bunch of kids crowded trying to get through trying to check out all the books, because they wanted to read them before they went away again,” Jaiden recalled.
Jaiden said it was important to him that other children also had access to the books, and not just the ones about Black struggle, but also the stories of triumph.
“I wanted a chance for all the Black kids in my community to get together and know each other better and read about Black characters that inspire us and not just about Black people and slavery,” he said.
Sisters Christina and Renee Ellis also stepped up in their Pennsylvania school, launching the Panther Anti-Racist Union at Central York High School, a student racial and social justice advocacy group. Recently, the group led a protest after an all-white school board banned a litany of educational materials including a book about Rosa Parks, “Hidden Figures,” a story about the Black women NASA mathematicians, and “I Am Not Your Negro,” a documentary about iconic author James Baldwin.
The Panther Anti-Racist Union. Photo Courtesy of NBC News
Parents, educators and fellow students joined the group in protest, one of the organizers Edha Gupta even writing letters to city newspaper editors. Renee said the protest was critical in ensuring the district is held accountable for attempting to impede on an inclusive learning environment for students of color.
“We didn’t want history to repeat itself, with hiding history, hiding the experiences of people of color in this country. We also wanted to make sure that the younger kids underneath got a full education, especially with the murder of George Floyd and the murder of Breonna Taylor and so many other social justice issues in America,” said Renee.
Christina said that in addition to being accurately educated about history, it’s also about representation and the harm it does to Black students when they are not adequately represented in educational materials.
“If a little girl or Black girl goes into her school library and can’t find a single book that represents her and people are telling her that she doesn’t really matter, she will treat herself as such. She will act like she doesn’t matter, and that’s how a cycle continues,” Christina added.
Author Mikki Kendall actually believes the book ban is working against legislators, revving up the demand for material that students may not have otherwise thought about.
“There’s nothing more attractive to a kid than a forbidden book. I’m watching kids respond by saying, ‘Well, I read the book to see what they were so upset about,’” Kendall explained.
12-year-old Kharia Pitts co-founded the book club with Jaiden at their middle school. She said she was inspired to launch it based on her own experiences.
“I have books that star Black people, but I don’t have a lot of them. I was thinking of other kids who don’t think that there are books about Black people, and I want to change that, because that’s almost what I thought,” Kharia said.
Her and Jaiden are currently leading their book club in reading books by banned Black author, Jason Reynolds, the 2020/2021 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. Currently, the Round Rock Black Students Book Club is reading Reynolds 2017 novel “Miles Morales,” about a Black Spider-Man. They are also reading Brandy Colbert’s 2019 novel “The Only Black Girls in Town,” about two young girls who discover a collection of hidden journals.
Jaiden has already experienced his fair share of racism, leaving his former school after being subjected to microaggressions from teachers. Through him and Kharia’s book club, he hopes that other Black students never feel marginalized, using the books as a way to center Black people and their stories.
“It makes me feel good when I read about characters and they have the same skin color as me and they’re not just, like, background characters, like in most books,” said Jaiden.
Kharia agreed, saying she didn’t understand why some adults are trying to hide racism from children.
“If kids of all other races learn about the truth and what happened to all types of people, then we won’t have to go back and repeat it. That way, we’re not stuck in an endless cycle,” Kharia said.
Shout out to all the children who are actively leading us into the future! Because of you all, we can!
(l to r) Kharia Pitts & Jaiden Johnson, leaders of the Round Rock Black Students Book Club. Photo Courtesy of NBC News