An Alabama family started an antiracist library to promote racial justice and the importance of diversity in reading

Bertheum couldn’t stop thinking about Floyd, his loved ones and the black community, where national protests and calls for justice have often been met with what she says are blatant racism and ignorance.

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

“Our library is closed due to Covid, but I noticed that books on racial justice were at the top of my bestseller list,” Bertheum, 43, told CNN. “We thought opening a small anti-racism library in our home could be a way to make these very important books accessible to people in our area. We also wanted all the children who came to see themselves represented in the books we provided.”

The mother of three – Emma, ​​Owen and Lily – and her husband built a small library of discarded red drawers. They added and painted a roof, and finalized it with the words “Small Anti-Racist Library” on its side.

Then the family set out to work, searching and finding books on racial justice, stories of major color characters, and titles by color authors.

Bertium said that 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 all the characters aren’t white.

“The response has been incredible,” she said. “I would estimate that about 320 to 350 books were taken.” “Our neighbors have all been very supportive. A lot of people have stopped by to say they enjoy the visit and are glad to have the library in the neighbourhood.”

“Racism is absolutely inevitable”

When Ashley Jones discovered her book, Reparations Now! , which is included in the small anti-racism library, I felt a tinge of hope.

Jones, the Alabama Poet Laureate, is the first person of color and the youngest person to hold the position, according to Dean Bonner, a historian with the Alabama Writers’ Cooperative.

“As a black woman in America, racism is absolutely inevitable. It shows up in all the small places, all the big places, all the places you wouldn’t expect. Sometimes it’s in a textbook. Sometimes it’s in a bag that I grab as I walk,” Jones told CNN. Sometimes it comes down to a question about my hair and skin.”

“If anyone thinks we are close to solving issues of racism and discrimination, they are wrong. If I’m afraid to go for a run, go buy a snack, go to sleep in my bed behind my locked door we haven’t finished work yet,” he said, referring to the high-profile killings he was subjected to. Unarmed blacks lately.

But the library, and her book’s inclusion, seemed like a sign — a small sign that at least some of the world was ready for change.

“Reparation now!” A collection of poems about the black experience and reparations for descendants of black slaves in the United States.

“We need to acknowledge the mistakes that were made and we still do, we need empathy and liberation, we need to have tough conversations,” Jones said. “I let poetry drive me as I thought and lived my experience with racism and discrimination as a black woman in America.”

While the shelves of the small anti-racist bookshop are filled with stories like hers, they also include books meant to help people expose their prejudices and privileges, such as Abram X’s “How to Be Anti-Racist.”

“This library is important because it might show people that some of the tangible steps for doing the inner workings needed to address prejudice and racism can include reading. It can start in the community,” Jones said.

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

All the books in the library were stolen – twice

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

“I filled the entire box the night before,” Bertium said. “It was really shocking and frustrating. We didn’t know their intentions, but we are the only small library in our neighborhood that is being stolen from.”

After posting about the theft on their Instagram page, the family received more than 400 donated books and about $1,500 to buy more.

“We started the library with enough books to fill it, and now we have a full storage space so we can always refill the library when it gets low,” Bertheum said. “All the books were taken back a few weeks ago, but this time we were able to fill them in again right away.”

When these parents could not find children's books with strong black characters, they created a pop-up store to sell them

“It was a great lesson for our children to see that while someone did something devastating, there were more people who wanted to help and build the library,” she said.

In December, the Family Library became an official partner of the nonprofit group Little Free Library, which provides public libraries across the United States that allow book sharing within communities.

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

The initiative launched in October 2020 in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, with the addition of 7,000 books celebrating diverse identities – including the voices of black, Muslim, Native American, and LGBT people.

To date, more than 30,000 diverse books have been distributed to more than 100 free small libraries across the country.

“We are excited to see people across the country are moving to share diverse books in their communities – both those who are part of the Small Free Library Network and those who are not,” Margaret Aldrich, a spokeswoman for Little Free Library, told CNN. .

“Miscellaneous books are vital,” she said. “Everyone deserves to see themselves in the pages of a book, and everyone can learn from different points of view than their own.”


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