Not too long ago, as I scrolled through an Instagram feed of smiling dogs, healthy plants, and colorful face masks, I came across a post from a young woman I went to high school with. We lost touch soon after graduation but, like many young people, still followed each other on social media. Arin was several months pregnant, due to give birth to a baby boy, when the country erupted in protests against police brutality and systemic racism. Such renewed opposition to the nation’s oldest problem created a sense of urgency. In her words: “with the recent racial tension, we have been experiencing in this country, I was forced to reflect on what my role in this fight looks like.”
So, she started collecting books. Books by Black authors, about Black people, about Black children, about Black babies. Books that didn’t just center around the struggle for acceptance or for progress but about the breadth of the Black experience. Her goal was to expose Black students at all levels of education to positive depictions of themselves. If you can only be what you can see, she was going to make sure you saw the best. She used her social media platforms to share the books she collected and to encourage her network to donate their funds or from their libraries. She has since collected over two hundred books to share with local non-profits, schools, and community centers. By any measure, her book drive is an immense success.
I share her story to highlight the changes we can make in our society when we focus our energy on targeted, specific, and hyper-localized solutions to the problems in our communities. We can learn a great deal about effective activism from Arin’s strategy. First, she defined the problem in specific terms – Black kids are not exposed to positive depictions of themselves in literature. Second, she honed in on the resources she had immediate access to through her personal network of friends and family, using social media to provide daily updates and encourage participation. Third, she maintained a local focus by concentrating her outreach to organizations within her own community.
This kind of concentrated activism can have significant effects on our neighborhoods, even without the broader demolishing of racist social structures that will take decades to accomplish. This is not to say that we shouldn’t work for this kind of progress but to recognize that as we take the small steps to creating a just society, we can still improve our own communities. We are each more powerful than we realize. We can do more than we think we can.
Arin’s book drive doesn’t just matter because it means more diversity in the literature to which our children are exposed. It matters because we know that the number of books in the home is a strong predictor of educational outcomes for children, especially for children from the poorest neighborhoods (source). It is obviously too early to tell how many children she has personally managed to elevate but it is undeniable that her project has changed lives. What we must now consider is what strengths we individually possess that can do the same.