Boulder’s Rachel Amaru is a writer and Certified Applied Poetry Facilitator with a passion for reading. Delia LaJeunesse is an artist and arts organizer. Both of them feel drawn to making a difference during this tumultuous and significant time in our country’s racial history. Together they are teaming up to launch the Children’s Book Initiative, an effort to get racially-conscious books in the hands of the children who need them most.
Can you tell us why you are starting this program?
Delia: We believe the Children’s Book Initiative is a very valuable program, especially right now, because to be an antiracist includes intentionally engaging our children through conversations, reading, and art on racial and social justice. Antiracist work is daily, and must start early.
Rachel: I strongly believe that the curricula that is taught in schools has to change and become more inclusive of a diversity of authors and histories, and that schools are responsible for investing in racially conscious libraries. When we started this project, I was amazed at how the market of racially-conscious children’s literature had exploded since my children were small. There are so many beautiful books out there now, but they are expensive and not every family can afford them. That’s where the Children’s Book Initiative comes in.
What’s happened so far?
We have already donated more than $1500 worth of books — all purchased from Black-owned bookstores. We especially want to make sure that families identifying as Black, Indigenous, and people of color have access to these books. We also think it incredibly important that white children read these books and start hearing stories they may not have heard before. After speaking to teachers, it became abundantly clear just how many of them do not have the resources to grow racially conscious libraries for their schools and classrooms, so we are working to support educators as well. Our current booklist, culled from many sources, is well over 100 books, from infant to high school.
Where have some of your books been distributed so far?
Thirty of the books are going to BLM5280’s Freedom School, which is an innovative one-week enrichment program with a mission to teach children to become racially literate, advocate for themselves, and critically challenge white supremacy. Some of our donations went directly to educators for their classrooms, and the others were sent to families’ homes. We have sent books to Missouri, Illinois, Virginia, and various cities in Colorado, and would love to expand our reach.
What is your vision for the project?
Our goal is to have a subscription service for families and educators, where they get a book a month (they will have a choice of 5 different age categories — similar in fashion to PJ Library). In addition to the book, we will provide suggestions of discussion questions and possible actions to take after reading.
How do people support the Children’s Book Initiative?
We have had incredible support to date, and enthusiastic interest from parents and educators, but we need to find avenues to raise more money. We are working on getting a grant to help fund the program, and are committed to making the book subscription available to those who can’t afford it. That’s where donations really help us. For more information on how to support us, here’s the link to our GoFundMe fundraiser… gf.me/u/ygkk59.
Where does your passion for educating people around racial equality come from?
Rachel: I was raised by parents committed to racial and social justice, and we have tried to raise our own children the same way. The call of “Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdof… Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue” deeply resonates for me.
Story Remedy stems from my combined interests in chaplaincy/ spiritual care and my love of reading and writing. I’ve been facilitating poetry therapy workshops at Denver Women’s Correctional Facility for a year, (unfortunately put on hold in March because of Covid), and am on my third workshop with the Boulder Vets Center. This, and my involvement with JABA (Jewish and Black Alliance), is my passion work. This collaboration with Delia and Subvert on the Children’s Book Initiative is a natural extension of what I want to be doing to promote the vision that art and activism go hand in hand.
Delia: It seems to me that if we’re going to collectively move towards racial equality, it needs to be embraced in multifaceted ways. Politics alone will not uproot our nation’s racism. As an artist, and a writer, I have long understood the power of art and literature to engage people in complex social issues. I founded Subvert, and work as a visual arts literacy instructor in order to teach people to use art as a tool to deeply examine and discuss racial and social justice.
How did you two become partners on this project?
Rachel: Delia has been doing a beautiful job of introducing people to art and the local art scene in Denver via a weekly newsletter. She is also one of my daughter’s best friends, so I have known her for a very long time. Seeing what she is doing, and what people her age are doing around racial equity, gives me hope.
Delia: Rachel has long been an inspiration as someone who lives by her values in every area of her life. She and I share very similar philosophies around the daily and continual practices of justice and healing in our work and community building, and have been looking for a way to collaborate and learn from one another in our respective fields.