In the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, across the nation there has been an outcry for support for the Black Lives Matter movement and a better understanding of racism in the United States and in Franklin County.
How does one increase their knowledge of racism and what does that looks like? According to Leigh Kolb, assistant professor of English, journalism and African American literature at East Central College and founder and chair of local nonprofit Stories Matter, it’s by providing “windows.”
The term windows was initially introduced by Emily Style for the National SEED Project. Windows are defined as a resource that offers a person a view into someone else’s experience that is different then there own.
A great resource for individuals looking for a window that gives insight into the black experience, community, discrimination and racism is literature, according to Kolb.
“Literature allows us to learn and understand history and human beings in a unique way,” she said. “Whether through fiction or nonfiction, when we understand the world through others’ perspectives we can be more thoughtful.”
Kolb added that it allows people reading the piece to be more “analytical” about themselves and their own reactions to others and the world around them.
These pieces of literature allow people then to have the conversation of unpacking what they have learned, she said.
“If we only read literature and experience the world through eyes that match our own, we are not going to see other people as fully human,” Kolb explained. “There is so much history to unpack, and so many voices to hear, and only then can we understand one another with knowledge and empathy.”
Aimee Appell, chair of Neighbors United - Undoing Racism and pastor at Peace Lutheran Church in Washington, said that reading literature and having conversations about race and discrimination allow people to acknowledge their own biases and change their perspective.
“We have a lot of preconceived notions about racism, what it looks like, where and if it happens,” Appell said. “What we are seeing with the current civil rights movement is that is not the case.”
She added that reading literature and educating one’s self on the topic helps a person evaluate whether or not they exhibit racist behaviors, even if unintentional, and how to adjust that behavior.
“Reading books by and about those who are different from our own societal norm is so important because it gives us more compassion for others,” Appell said. “For us to start to see change in this country we have to have our heart cracked open for others.”
Franklin County nonprofit Stories Matters, formed in 2016, focuses on providing windows into other communities for children and adolescents.
Board member of Stories Matter Jennifer Johnson explained she has seen the effects of providing windows for her own two children, Jude, 11, and Beatrice, 5.
“A benefit I have noticed (to reading them books on racism and discrimination) is how easily they understand that injustice exists and want to help,” Johnson said. “I have heard parents voice concern about certain topics being too grown up for kids and wanting to avoid them, but children’s books do a great job of presenting stories and information that are age appropriate.”
She added that her daughter loves reading about Rosa Parks.
“At 5 (years old) she understands racism and is inspired by people like Rosa Parks who stood up for what’s right,” Johnson said. “I think that sends a doubly powerful message: understanding the wrong and what can be done to help. I think continuing those discussions after the book is finished is absolutely necessary; we want our children to be empowered to do the right thing.”
Having read literature with her children that covers the topic of racism has allowed her family to have indepth conversations about the recent events that have taken place and those that have led up to them over the years, Johnson noted.
Neighborhood Reads in Washington has geared up to provide the community access to books on diversity in its partnership with Stories Matter.
Dawn Kitchell, bookstore owner, explained she feels passionate about how books and the stories inside them create empathy in the people who read them and wants to see that continue in her own community.
“The partnership with Stories Matter was not born out of this current situation,” she said. “The bookstore has had great respect for what they are doing and has been working with them prior to this.”
Kitchell said she reached out to Kolb on what book recommendations she had for the topics of discrimination and racism.
“Neighborhood Reads has worked hard to make sure we have a diverse book selection, but when Leigh (Kolb) sent me her list, I made sure I ordered every book on the list,” she said.
The bookstore also has the list featured on its website and a link to it on the Neighborhood Reads Facebook page.
Kitchell explained that Stories Matter members read books for the bookstore’s story time, but due to social restrictions that has been suspended, but Kitchell plans on resuming it.
The Lohmeyer family in Washington also had adopted a bookshelf with books that covers the topics of racism and discrimination.
In an effort to expand the bookstore’s effort in supporting Stories Matter and its mission, the store, in honor of its three-year anniversary will be donating 20 percent of its sales to the nonprofit.
For more information on Stories Matter, visit its Facebook page at storiesmatterbooks.