Rachel Bevel, a graduate of Cleveland Metropolitan School District and Miami University, loves to read with her children. Books that reflect her own culture and upbringing are priceless to this African American mother. She vividly recalls the moment she discovered the book Full, Full, Full of Love by Trish Cooke — a treasured favorite that she describes as “a savory story about a young boy named Jay Jay preparing to eat a soulful Sunday dinner with his family at Grannie’s house.” Bevel explains that as the plot builds, “readers are introduced to characters who seem familiar, as well as to evocative descriptions of Grannie’s home. The story is filled with Black cultural references and lovely moments with significance to my family.”
In the whitepaper “The Importance of Diversity in Library Programs and Material Collections for Children,” Dr. Jamie Campbell Naidoo discusses the positive effect that literary diversification can have on a child’s self-perception and cultural understanding. Exposing children to different languages and traditions assists in relationship building with people who are culturally different, which in turn helps to create a unified world.
Diverse literature shows readers that we all, no matter our ethnic backgrounds, have congruent experiences, emotions, and relationships. For instance, the relationship between children and their grandparents is a universal story. Like Jay-Jay in Full, Full, Full of Love, many children have endearing names for their grandmothers. Another globally recognized narrative is the warm and timeless tradition of people gathering together for a meal or feast.
According to Dr. Naidoo’s research, books and other print media teach children how society feels about them. Positive representation develops self-love in children, who as toddlers have already begun to sense their place in the world around them. As parents, educators, and library directors, we have the responsibility to create spaces that uplift children, spaces that celebrate the strengths and beauty of diversity.
We can meet that responsibility through resources such as The Cleveland School Book Fund, which is purposed in literary accessibility. The mission of CSBF is to provide quality books in the classrooms and homes of Cleveland metropolitan students from Pre-K to grade 4. The book lists available to teachers are intentionally wide-ranging, including titles such as Lon Po Po by Ed Young and The Cazuela that the Farm Maiden Stirred by Samantha R. Vamos.
Culturally relevant content in education is one of the many seeds of civil rights planted by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., though his life was taken before he could witness how those seeds have taken root. In 1947, in “The Purpose of Education” published by Morehouse College, Dr. King cautioned, “If we are not careful, our colleges will produce a group of close-minded, unscientific, illogical propagandists, consumed with immoral acts. Be careful, brethren! Be careful, teachers!”
On August 28th, 1963, Dr. King harnessed the dynamic strength of storytelling and planted generational hope through his “I Have a Dream” speech: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.”
Nearly 57 years have passed since Dr. King charged every United States citizen with the fulfillment of that dream. Diversified literature and media can help achieve the dream—it is how his goal of social and racial equity can be kept alive.
The cultural pride of our children is critical, a crucial recognition they have something to offer this world and that their stories are worth being heard and celebrated.