The East Central College Social Justice Committee and Neighbors United Undoing Racism have teamed up for a new “Stories Matter” campaign to provide books with diverse themes and ideas to libraries throughout Franklin County.

The idea behind the campaign is to foster critical thinking and respectful relationships by providing positive and accurate learning experiences about human differences and similarities, said Leigh Kolb, Social Justice Committee chair and board member of Neighbors United Undoing Racism.

“It’s so important for very young children to be exposed to stories about those unlike them to dismantle prejudice, because that starts at a very young age,” she said.

ECC’s Social Justice Committee is comprised of about 15 faculty and staff members. The committee is seeking a way to provide opportunities for young children to have exposure to unique perspectives.

“Stories Matter” is modeled after the We Stories campaign in St. Louis, which offers diverse books and talking points about race relations for families.

Kolb said that involving the libraries makes the project a community effort.

Dan Brower, assistant director of Scenic Regional Library, said the campaign is a great idea to help give people a well-rounded perspective of the world.

“One thing I’ve always liked about libraries is that we’re in the unique place to bridge the gap in a lot of these topics, especially diversity. We have those tools and resources, said Brower. “Some people may say ‘It’s just a book,’ but a book can change a child’s perspective on their entire world.”

The project officially kicked off Nov. 3, during the ECC Film and Lecture panel discussion “Interrupting Racism.” The first phase will focus on preschool through third grade students.

Books, Funding

Together, members from both Neighbors United and the Social Justice Committee compiled a list of 15 books that build diversity.

Many of the authors and illustrators have been awarded the Coretta Scott King Book Award, which is given “to outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values,” the American Liberty Association website says.

Books include: “Brick By Brick,” “Let’s Talk About Race,” “My Nose, Your Nose,” “My People,” “Rosa,” “Separate is Never Equal,” “Shades of People,” “Ten Little Fingers, Ten Little Toes,” “The Case for Loving,” “The Skin You Live In,” “Two Friends: Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass,” “We March,” “We’re Different, We’re the Same,” “Whoever You Are” and “Yo! Yes!”

Books range in price from $2.39 to $15.99.

Most of the titles focus on racial identity, but Kolb said the plan is to expand with other topics in the future.

The groups have kicked off a fundraiser to purchase all 15 books for each of the eight branches of Scenic Regional Library, as well as the bookmobile, Washington Public Library and Gerald Area Library.

Donors may “adopt” books for a branch of their choice and a custom bookplate will be placed in the book with the sponsor’s name.

“I’m excited about furthering conversations — about the ability for books especially, but also broader media and stories to transform us in terms of empathy, reducing prejudice and allowing us to have conversations from broader perspectives.”

The goal is to have the funds for the books by the Neighbors United Martin Luther King Jr. celebration Jan. 15 and for libraries to order and begin circulation in February.

Kolb said the groups will work toward hosting group discussions and offering talking points for parents.

Donations can be made online, at www.gofundme.com/stories-matter.

An in-person fundraising opportunity, where donors can view the books, will take place during the Martin Luther King Celebration Sunday, Jan. 15, at 3 p.m., in the ECC gymnasium.

For more information or to make a donation in person, people may email Kolb, leigh.kolb@eastcentral.edu.

More information also is on Facebook, at facebook.com/storiesmatterbooks.