Ever have one of those experiences where you’re surrounded by people whose work your admire, important publishing folks, and wonder what in the world you are doing in the same room with them? Well, that was me at the Day of Diversity program created by Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) at the ALA Midwinter meeting in Chicago. Do not get me wrong, I was (and still am) so honored to be invited to the conference and have the opportunity to represent Rich In Color, as well as being a voice for teachers. A week and half later, everything I learned, shared and discussed with so many people still has me thinking deeply and reflecting on the experience. There are random moments during the day when some memory, some interaction with a fellow like minded person, makes me smile and reminds me of the passion for change expressed at the conference. I returned from the conference full of new ideas for my classroom, my school and my community.
The conference consisted of a mix of speakers, panels, and small group breakout sessions to bring folks from a variety of publishing disciplines to discuss solutions and brainstorm action plans. Since the conference was hosted by ALSC, there was a focus on what librarians could do help promote diversity in children’s & young adult literature, and because I’m a teacher, some of the topics were foreign to me, however I learned much about the book business from a librarian’s standpoint. As library consumer, I found speaking to librarians about what they do and how they promote literacy fascinating. The breakout sessions, especially, were inspiring to me to return to my school and community and work on the relationship with my school and our local library. I realized I could do more, while also actively creating fellowship with my students, their parents, and the larger community in which they live by exposing them to library programs, as well as helping many of my students understand and use the resources the library provides. I also realized that by creating a relationship with my school’s local library, I can help them create a diverse reading list for the community. I was also able to share with librarians the teacher’s perspective on literacy and gave suggestions to how librarians can help teachers out with this reading lists as well. The communion of ideas the conference allowed through the breakout sessions resulted in win-win scenarios all around.
When discussing the issue of diversity on such a large scale, there is always emotion involved and I found myself near to tears many times throughout the day. During our lunch, authors Sara Farizan, Ellen Oh, and Cynthia Letich Smith, as well as Penguin editor Namrata Tripathi gave lightening talks, which were about 10 min talks on a particular subject. All four speakers bared their hearts with their words, shared profound thoughts, and touched us all. I usually like to take notes during talks, but I found myself so enthralled and moved that I just let their words of beauty, words of pain wash over me and settle in my heart. In her talk about being a “multi-cultural editor’” and being a person of color in publishing, Namrata’s statement, “When we introduce ourselves, our personhood is communicated,” really impacted me. I fully understand how being proud of one’s name, when it reflects one’s cultural background (For reference, the K is my first initial and Imani is my middle name. My first name is Arabic.) can be an issue for others when one is pursing a career, or rather traversing this American culture. It made me think of the trials I’d gone through to accepting my name, and I thought of many of my students who face similar issues. It also reinforced the notion that children of all races need to be exposed to a variety of cultures (and names) so when I introduce myself, or anyone with a name that reflects his/her culture, the response won’t be negative.
During my last breakout session, the conversation ended with us reflecting on what we can do once we return home. What we can do in a month, in three months, six months and a year from now; because that is how change happens, one step at a time. It was a wonderful discussion and I ended up creating a “to-do” list for myself for the rest of the school year, as well as set some new writing goals. Then, back in the general session retired ALA Literacy & Outreach director Satia Orange gave us a passionate speech calling us, no demanding us, to decide what we were going to do the very next day to bring about change. Again, I was moved to tears, but also ready to take action.
And so I did! The very next day I purchased books from a small publisher, an Asian-American author, for both my niece and nephew. Since I’ve returned from the conference, with a renewed spirit to continue to push for diverse books for children/teens, I’ve focused my efforts on my students and my school, talking with my principal about putting in a Little Free Library, contacting the Scholastic Book Fair about their need for more diverse books, as well as encouraging my young writers so they can be the next generation of published authors. I do have more planned, but one step at a time. Because that is how change happens.
One of my fun highlights was sitting around chatting with the We Need Diverse Books team at the after conference reception, and just meeting a bunch of authors that I’ve admired for years. Check out the happy in the photos below.