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Little Anti-Racist Free Library helping kids and adults learn history and tolerance

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Posted at 10:38 AM, Jan 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-18 08:52:12-05

HOMEWOOD, Al. — Little free libraries are popping up in front of homes and businesses across the country. They've helped neighborhoods feel a sense of community, especially during the pandemic.

In Kristen Berthiaume’s Homewood, Alabama neighborhood, she started a special little free library to help her community be more inclusive.

“We've had a lot of hard conversations, and books are such a great way to have that conversation,” said Berthiaume.

Her project started after the murder of George Floyd.

“My husband and I were kind of talking about, ‘What is something that we can do to just be part of the solution on racial justice?’”

They decided a little free library dedicated to anti-racist books for children and adults alike was a good first step.

“As parents, it's our tendency to want to shield our kids from horrible things. But, you know, we were like, we can't keep this from them,” said the mother of three. “We have to talk about it, and we have to help them grow up to be people that, you know, are fighting against this kind of thing.”

The family used an old dresser and converted it into the Anti-Racist Little Library.

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The Berthiaume family's Little Anti-Racist Library was made from a repurposed dresser.

“It's like a really cool resource for our street,” said Emma Berthiaume, Kristen’s 15-year-old daughter.

The family reads books together, and then, those books go into the library outside their home for the neighborhood to enjoy.

The books are for all ages with all kinds of lessons. Everyone is invited to join in and borrow a book.

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“There are definitely some that are pretty explicit talking about racial injustice. There are other books that are sort of more general about treating everybody kindly and treating everybody with respect, and then, there are also just books by an author of color,” said Berthiaume.

Berthiaume said she hopes people are willing to come and check out the books before judging what the library has to offer.

“It's not to harm anybody; it's to educate and it's to help lift everybody up,” she said. I don't feel like that the term 'anti-racism' is, you know, negatively going to impact white people. Racism is something that doesn't help any of us. It hurts all of us. So, let's fight together against it.”

Neighbor David Goodwin brings his 11-year-old daughter, Katie, every few weeks to check out a new book.

“Whether it's racial injustice or if it's threats to democracy, all the things that we're dealing with, books that we've been able to get here help us understand it,” said Goodwin.

“The Berthiaumes doing this library will maybe encourage some other people to do something like it and that that will change the future for this generation and generations to come,” said the sixth-grader.

The trend is already growing. Little free anti-racist libraries are now popping up across the country.

Rise Up Against Racism is a nonprofit started by three California moms who have now opened several little free anti-racist libraries across their neighborhoods.

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Co-Founder Jenny Roy said it’s helping provide access to educational materials people may not be able to get otherwise.

“The reality is that a lot of people don't have access to these kinds of books,” said Roy. “They might not actually realize that some of these texts are out there, both for kids and adults. And the idea that we're building these freestanding little free anti-racist libraries means that anybody can walk by, they can look into this library and see, actually, ‘This book might be interesting to me,’ and start opening it up and reading it.”

Roy and her co-founders Sarah Foster and Meg Honey said this education is critical for young children to be open-minded and accepting from a young age.

“Kids actually start to form ideas about race and racism as early as the age of three,” said Roy. “Whether they realize it or not, racism and ideas about race are being formed. So, that's why these books are so important.”

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These libraries are already helping children like 11-year-old Owen Berthiaume have mature conversations with his family.

“I realized how bad people of color are treated,” said Owen. “At my school, we don't get taught this stuff. I had to learn this from our library and from the books because we don't get taught this stuff.”

The sixth-grader put it simply: “There's no reason to be racist. Like, there's no reason,” said Owen.

In two different instances, the Berthiaumes' library was completely cleaned out. Someone stole all the books. Kristen said she wasn’t sure if someone didn’t like the mission of the library or wanted the books, but it was disappointing to see someone steal from the neighborhood.

But in the face of this theft, her community rallied around the library to keep it going.

“I think if the person's goal was to, you know, hurt the little library in some way. They really did not meet that goal. They really kind of did the opposite because it ended up a lot more people knew about it and a lot more people, you know, felt like it was their library and they were contributing to it,” said Berthiaume.

The Berthiaume family is hoping their library will inspire others to build similar projects in their own neighborhoods to inspire community, connection, and education.

“I don't think that the future will be perfect, but I definitely think it'll be better,” said Emma.

“There's a lot that's needed from all of us to really make changes to end systems that are racist,” said Kristen. “Beyond being aware, what you actually do with that is really what it comes down to.”

Follow the Berthiaumes' Little Anti-Racist Library on social media HERE.

Learn more about Rise Up Against Racism, HERE.