YOUNG, BLACK, AND LIT

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Krenice Roseman started Young, Black, and Lit when she struggled to find a book for her niece - a book that featured the experiences of young Black children. The result? A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to providing children's books featuring Black characters to local youth at no cost to the youth or their families. Young, Black & Lit was started by book lovers who understand the critical importance of reading and representation in the lives of children.  With a simple mission, they aim to increase access to children's books that center, reflect, and affirm the experiences of Black children. ​Based in Chicagoland, Young, Black & Lit sources and distributes new children's books featuring Black main characters to youth at no cost to the youth or their families. 

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TRANSCRIPT

Molly Ness:

In the work to end book deserts, it's essential, not only to give kids access to books but access to books that are relevant and representative of them. In today's podcast, I speak with the founder of Young, Black, and Lit, a nonprofit organization committed to increasing access to children's books that center, reflect and affirm black children.

Molly Ness:

Welcome to End Book Deserts, the podcast, featuring the innovative people and programs who work to provide book access to our nation's under-resourced areas or overlooked populations. I'm Dr. Molly Ness, lifelong reader book nerd teacher educator. I've created the End Book Deserts podcast so that all children have access to books and reading culture. The End Book Deserts podcast, a part of the education podcast network, just like the show you're listening to now shows on the network are individually owned and opinions expressed may not reflect others. Find other interesting education podcasts @edupodcastnetwork.com.

 

Molly Ness:

I'm thrilled today to chat with Chicago-based Young, Black, and Lit who operates with a simple mission to increase access to children's books that are representative of the experiences of black children.

 

Molly Ness:

But before I dive in, let me pause for a couple of important matters.

 

Molly Ness:

I'm super excited to talk about my favorite new read-aloud platform- Readio. This book chat technology is used by families around the world. It's the only patented platform that combines video chatting with award-winning children's books. Let me explain how it works. For $10 a month, users can invite up to four additional members to join their family plan. Book chats can occur with just two users or many users. So, imagine grandparents reading to all of their grandchildren simultaneously, even the one lives in California, one in Japan, and another in Florida. Users can create and share virtual bookshelves. So your favorite books are always available. Readio can be used on a variety of devices, and it's so simple to use. And because they add new books weekly, you'll never run out of your favorite stories to read together. I took advantage of a free 14-day trial, and I loved Readio's large library, it's easy-to-use website, and how simple and intuitive it was. And of course, the fact that my daughter and I could easily read with family members across the world, making our virtual calls, which we seem to be doing so much of lately, more meaningful, more enjoyable, and rich in the benefits of read-aloud. When you're a part, Readio connects the heart that's R E A D E O.com.

Molly Ness:

Before we jump into today's episode, I am thrilled to announce the first-ever End Book Deserts virtual event taking place on August 8th and 9th, 2021. This free event will bring together non-profit’s literacy researchers, educators, children's book authors, and all sorts of advocates who are working to get books into the hands of kids and to build literacy culture across the country. Registration is free and now available. The live virtual delivery makes it so that you can drop in for a session or two or stay for the entire two-day event. For more information and registration visit www.endbookdeserts.com/event.

 

Molly Ness:

I'm thrilled to be joined today by Krenice, the co-founder of Young, Black, and Lit, um, which you're joining us today from snowy and cold Chicago. Thanks for joining us today.

 

Krenice Roseman:

Thanks for having me. Thanks for having me. I'm staying warm.

Molly Ness:

Okay. So tell us what is Young, Black, and Lit and what, um, how'd you get started in? What work are you doing now?

 

Krenice Roseman:

So Young, Black, and Lit is a non-profit organization based in the Chicagoland area. We've been around for about well going on three years in, in May, uh, we'll be around for three years. I am. What we do simply is that we give books to local youth that feature black characters. I started the organization really based off of, um, my niece. Uh, I always get her books for her birthday and, uh, whether she likes it or not. And, um, I was having a hard time- I was running behind or getting her a gift. I ran into a bookstore to try to find a book that had little black girls as the main characters. And it was not easy to find. I was in the bookstore for a very long time getting help from the associates. And I just could not find an age-appropriate books of little black girls. And so I was really frustrated by that. I'm upset that, you know, she couldn't walk into a bookstore and just see, you know, a bookshelf full of books with little girls that look like her on them. And so, I decided I wanted to do something about it and it really started with like small donations to local community centers in my hometown of Evanston. Uh, and then I was talking to my then-boyfriend now, husband at the time about, you know, making these small donations and he's like, I think it can become bigger. I think we can do more. And so that's how I, it grew.

Molly Ness:

So let me pause there and ask you to explain a little bit more why it's so important for your niece and for the children that you're working with to see characters and authors and illustrators who look like themselves in the pages of a book. Um, we're coming off of a summer where lots of conversations were about Black Lives Matter. Um, I, as a literacy educator, always talk about books as windows, doors, and mirrors. Um, but tell us a little bit more about that for people that, um, may not be as familiar with this.

Krenice Roseman:

Yeah. So I think, uh, as you say, part of the reason, uh, in addition to my niece being the reason why, why I started is just kind of our fundamental belief that every child deserves to see themselves in the stories that they read and going to what you mentioned, the windows and doors, um, concept. Uh, we know that when children are able to see themselves in the stories that they read and they see their voice and their culture and their family reflected back to them in stories, it makes them feel valued. It makes them feel like their family is important and their culture is an important part of the fabric of this society. And so, it's really critically important for us to make sure that books, in particular, featuring black children are, um, easily assessable. Uh, because we also know that a disproportionately low number of books featuring black children's books, featured black characters are published each year. And so we really feel like we're trying to do the work to find all these fabulous varied stories of black experience to share with children so that they know black children, in particular, know that their experience is important, that they feel centered in stories, but awful that non-black children are able to read these stories and find common ground say, Hey, this is a story about a girl who loves a book. I love a book too, and it's not really even about the race of the child and the story. It's just human connection, understanding that we're a light, we have similarities, but also being able to get a glimpse into other cultures and respect and celebrate those differences- differences that we have as well. So it's really just the opportunity for children to be able to, to, um, feel, feel seen.

Molly Ness:

Um, I know as somebody who considers myself pretty well versed in the world of publishing and children's books and such, I know there's been such a push to increase representation in children's literature. And so, I'm wondering, um, if you can comment on that. I'm thinking specifically of one of my favorite, um, middle-grade authors, Nic Stone, who I had on the podcast, um, I guess maybe a year or so ago, she has a new book coming out and I'm going to blank. I think it's called Fast Pitch and I may be blanking on the name. Um, it is about a young black girl who is a softball player. And Nic tells the story of when she was growing up the books that had characters who looked like her were not books about girls playing sports. And she was a girl who played sports, loved softball, loved the movie, The Sandlot. And so she basically decided she wanted to write a book about a young black girl who is a baseball-softball player because she sort of said, you know, all of the books that I grew up with showed black people as slaves or, um, overcoming civil rights or that sort of thing, not necessarily having like the normalcy of childhood experiences. So, I'm wondering if you can just comment on the, um, what the literature that you're working with and that you're distributing and getting into the hands of kids.

Krenice Roseman:

Yeah. So that's actually a really important point for us as an organization. What we found was that it was very easy to find books about Martin Luther King Jr, and Rosa Parks, and the are a great historical figures. And we believe that sharing that history, especially the lesser-known, um, historical facts about black history are important and should be shared with children, but that's not our only experience. Our only experience is not trauma. Our only experience is not slavery. Uh, really, you know, black history is American history. And so we're, we're really weaved into the story of this country. And so it's important that we share all the stories up from the, like I said, a book about a little girl who enjoys playing with bugs and the dirt, right. It's just basic, everyday normal stories that have about children and their experiences. But, um, we really make sure that those experiences are told from the voice of black children, that their voice is heard even in those everyday normal experiences, because it's really important that, um, children understand and in particular non-black children understand that there is a vastness to the black experience, that we're not a monolith, that there are many stories to tell about, um, our experiences that aren't rooted in trauma. So that is really a, an important point that our organization tries to focus on when we're selecting books. We really do try to make sure we have a wide range of books that share, you know, the important historical moments because those are critical to ensure that it's not never forgotten, never repeated. And then it's understood in the proper context. Um, but also, like I said, there's just everyday experiences of being a kid, fun stories, light stories, happy stories, stories about family and friendship, uh, and everything in between, which are really important.

Molly Ness:

So you've got- I assume, as a nonprofit, you've got a network of places where the books are going, explain your work a little bit more, how it runs, how you've, um, had to adapt because of COVID like, what is the actual work besides getting these awesome books out there? Um, what are you doing?

Krenice Roseman:

So, yeah, so primarily we're partnering with individuals, organizations, schools, businesses who have relationships with, um, certain segments of the community that we can get direct access to children. So, we really been growing our partnerships with schools here in the Chicagoland area and Evanston and, uh, and the CPS in particular, uh, where we partner with them to, you know, curate a list of books that we've found. And we have in our book bank, uh, to fit their needs, you know, the grade level and the age of the child, if there's a topic area like STEM for girls or in things like that, um, where we can curate a list for them and partner with them to get those books directly into the hands of youth, uh, right now we've rolled out or this year we rolled out our first, what we're calling our lit year program. And we've partnered with several schools in the area to provide students with one book, one new children's book per month for the duration of the school year and additional five books for summer reading. And we've had to pivot that program as a result of the pandemic when we were delivering them directly to the schools, maybe having someone go and read, uh, but due to the pandemic and schools being shut down in libraries, being, um, closed for a period of time where we're mailing those books directly to students' homes. And what we've heard from parents, especially at the start of the pandemic is how much they really appreciated just getting books that their kids can have in the home and just do something while they're, while they're at home being idle. So it's been, you know, really through those partnerships that we've been able to gain direct access to a large population of children and pre-pandemic. And hopefully, you know, as things continue to get better, we'll go back to having, like being at community events with our book fair events, where we just have books out where the kids can come and browse them and take any book that they, that piques their interest cause we really like that kind of engagement too, because that's where we hear directly from the children who are like, hey, that girl looks like me or her hair is like me and they get super excited and that just, just makes us happy to be out there and doing this work.

Molly Ness:

So you're starting to go in this direction. So let me ask you to unpack this a little bit more explicitly, where do you see Young, Black, and Lit going down the road? What's what does the future hold for you guys? Hopefully post-pandemic. I sort of feel like we're on the beginning of the end of this mayhem…

Krenice Roseman:

I think so. I think so. So, so right now, I guess we really been focusing on this lit year program and hoping to expand it at least throughout, um, the Chicagoland area to get into as many schools as we possibly can, because what we're finding is having that month to month contact with the child, getting them a fresh new book. We have like little resource guides that we put up on our website for it specifically for the program that parents can access and do like little activities based on the books they get each month. We really want to grow that. And hopefully we, this year we started with just kindergarten and we're hoping that each year we'll be able to roll in a new grade. So go on, you know, next year will be K and first grade, and then K first and second through third grade is, is the hope is that we can roll these out, uh, this program out for K through third grade. So, each year the child is getting 15 new books, age-appropriate books. And by the end of third grade, they'll have like 60 books. They have their own little mini-library that they're able to keep, uh, pass along to their siblings or family members and friends. Um, and during that really critical K through three timeframe where, you know, they're learning to read that we really make sure they have access to books to help them on that journey.

Molly Ness:

So, um, you've spoken a little bit about how kids respond to you when, back in the days, and certainly in the days down the road, when they, um, get to actually see books and you get to camp out and they get to choose them and such, um, what is the community response been to you guys? How have you been, um, how are you, what are you noticing in terms of the impact and people's reactions?

Krenice Roseman:

I mean, it has been very supportive of us. Uh, people are just, you know, especially when we're in, like, like I said, in the pre-pandemic days and we were able to just be out in the community, set up with our books. It's very hard for someone to walk past and just see a bunch of beautiful new books with like vibrant pictures and characters on them and not get excited about it. And so a lot of parents ended up coming up to the table were like, man, I wish you guys were around when I was a kid. Like I had these books that I could read or that, you know, my adult child had these books when, you know, I was bringing them up. So, they're just super excited and supportive of the work that we're doing. We rely on donors, uh, obviously as our main funding source. And so, it's, it's been really great to see how much support the community has given us. Um, just making sure that they spread the word about the work that we do, that they make donations to ensure that we continue to get the books that we do. Uh, so it's just been really been, it's really been fantastic in a, in a good, um, you know, sign that we're doing some good work.

Molly Ness:

Well, you guys are certainly doing awesome work and I will say exciting things are happening with regard to literacy in Chicago, in Chicagoland home to Bernie's Book Bank, Chicago, Public Schools is doing awesome stuff. Um, so it's really cool to see this network of literacy activists who are out there in schools, in the communities, um, getting books into the hands of kids. So let me ask you the question that I ask of every, um, of every guest that I have on the podcast. And I'm sort of laughing, I know listeners won't be able to see this, but I see your Peloton in the background, and hopefully, you used yours in the last two weeks, more than I've used mine.

Krenice Roseman:

I’ve been trying.

 

Molly Ness:

And I literally have no excuse, but, you know, inevitably I'll find one. Maybe I have to read instead of getting on my Peloton. So I'm hoping that you can tell our listeners a book from your past or present that really has had an impact on you. It's a little bit of a different question than your favorite book. Um, because it's that book that really has, um, made its mark on you and changed you and impacted you in some capacity. I know this is a tough question. Most of my guests, because they're in the world of literacy activism, they are readers themselves, and it's nearly impossible to narrow it down to one book. Um, I understand that struggle and your, your answer today may be a different answer tomorrow, but what's that one that's jumping out.

 

Krenice Roseman:

So, the one that immediately comes to mind is Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. It's a book I read when I was in high school.

 

Molly Ness:

Me too.

 

Krenice Roseman:

Yeah, and I feel like it was, it was the perfect book for me to read at that time, just because, um, for me, it was really one of the first books I read that central experience of a black woman in the story, and it was a free black woman. It was a black woman who was unencumbered by the world who, um, you know, did what she wanted to do, despite what everyone else around her was telling her she should do. And that really spoke to me. And I always, for whatever reason, I have always remembered the end of the book. Um, the line is basically something like, you know, like here is peace, but it just really is a perfect bow on the end of her story of I, everything should be good and the bad everything that she experienced, it was this black woman who was just living in the world freely. And as a young black teenager at the time, that just really spoke to me. That just really made me feel like there was more world to see, and that, you know, I should do so, um, without the weight of expectations on me. So having a story that really centered the experience of a black woman in that way as just always had a really, I think, profound impact on my young self and how I started to view the world.

Molly Ness:

I remember having to read it for ninth grade, freshmen year English, and I can actually visualize the cover that sort of like greenish, um, uh, with the characters and profile, I think like laying down the stars, the language in that book is so beautiful. I haven't picked it up. Gosh, I don't want to date myself and say how long ago my freshman year was. I haven't picked it up since then. So, I'm wondering if my experience of it then would be what it is now. It's always interesting to revisit books from your past and see if they've stood the test of time and how they impact you differently at different points of your life.

Krenice Roseman:

Yeah, and actually picked it back up during the pandemic. I'm like, you know, I had nothing but time on my hands. Uh, and I, I re-read, uh, Their Eyes Were Watching God and I re-read The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Um, and that I felt had different feelings about them now as an adult woman, but they still really just resonate with, because, like I said, it's just, it's just something about having the protagonist, be someone you identify with who found like people, you know, who's from a culture that you love and know, um, that really can, can move you

 

Molly Ness:

And talk about full circle. The work that you're doing now with Young, Black, and Lit is gifting that same experience you had two children in the Chicagoland area. So, um, clearly a book that has made a mark on you and really informed the work that you're doing currently. Thank you so much for sharing your story. We will link more about your work and, um, how people can find out how to get involved, some of your resources on the End Book Deserts website. Um, thanks for making the time today. And we will look forward to hearing more about your work to end book deserts.

 

Krenice Roseman:

Thank you so much for having me. This is great. I appreciate it.

Molly Ness:

That wraps it up for this episode of End Book Deserts. If you know of a person or program doing innovative work to get books into the hands of young readers, email me at molly@endbookdeserts.com. For more about my work and for more about the program featured on this episode, check out our webpage www.endbookdeserts.com. Follow me on social media at End Book Deserts and share out your stories and reactions with the #EndBookDeserts. Thanks to Dwayne Wheatcroft for graphics and copy and to Benjamin Johnson for sound editing. Until the next episode, happy reading!