The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

CARE expands program to donate books with diverse characters to local schools

The Reading in Color initiative works to make Lexington a more inclusive community
CARE Rockbridge
The CARE program delivers books to Central Elementary School.

In an isolated community with a Confederate history, elementary students in Lexington often aren’t exposed to individuals from underrepresented groups.

The Community Anti-Racism Effort, known as CARE, is trying to change the narrative by providing youth with more diverse literature in elementary classrooms of Lexington and Rockbridge County.

Reading in Color, an initiative of CARE, is working to expand its program to give more students access to books that feature minority characters, said Linny Chin, a CARE board member and professor of sociology at Washington and Lee.

“[Reading in Color] is about bringing in more representation for children to see that there are other kinds of experiences and stories,” Chin said. “It has the potential for minoritized children to see themselves in a book.”

This past year Reading in Color provided 46 books to Harrington Waddell and Central Elementary schools, giving a total of over 700 students access to books that tell stories about characters that identify as black, indigenous, or people of color, Chin said.

Moving forward, the Reading in Color program wants to reach more youth, Chin said. By next year, the committee is planning to donate books to two more local schools, including Natural Bridge Elementary, which serves over 200 students, she said.

Books provided in the future may also include different aspects of diversity, such as disability awareness and immigration, Chin said.

Kimberly Troise, the principal at Waddell Elementary, said diverse literature teaches her students about the importance of being kind to those who are from different backgrounds.

“It’s been a great way to give students an idea of people from diverse cultures within our community,” Troise said. “The books give students an inside view of something that may be a little different than what they’re used to.”

The books are used by teachers in the classroom during story times, Troise said. Teachers at Central Elementary are also able to check out the books from the school library to use in the classroom, said Robin Parker, the principal at Central Elementary.

One of the books available to students, titled “Eyes that Kiss in the Corners” by Joanna Ho, tells the story of a young Asian girl who learns the importance of self-love and empowerment, according to the CARE website.

The book themes help children connect with each other through experiences familiar to them, Chin said.

“Familial love, friendship, or overcoming adversity are things that all people in a community may experience, they just may take on extremely different shapes and forms,” Chin said.

In an era of national discussions on book banning and diversity education, encouraging students to read books with diverse characters could be seen as controversial.

Lexington has had its fair share of book banning controversy as well. Last September, Lylburn Downing Middle School removed books from their library after parents said they featured sexually explicit language.

But Reading in Color has been well-received by the community, said Robin LeBlanc, a co-founder of CARE and professor of politics at Washington and Lee.

“We’ve had nobody say, ‘we don’t want those books,’” LeBlanc said. “We’ve had people who have not responded to our efforts to bring them books. It’s hard to know from the outside why that happens.”

CARE is planning to create a group of volunteers from diverse backgrounds that will host read-alongs at local elementary schools, Chin said. By representing people of color in the classroom, students will be able to see that everyone can write and tell stories, LeBlanc said.

“People regardless of skin color, regardless of the language their family speaks, regardless of the story of getting to that classroom, are all a part of creating the future,” LeBlanc said.

CARE was started in 2016 to counteract groups who praise the confederacy, said Rev. Reginald A. Early, a founder of CARE. Lexington has been a gathering site for hundreds of people to celebrate Lee-Jackson Day, a former Virginia holiday that occurred near Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, he said.

In 2016, LeBlanc, Early and other community leaders came together and started a counter-celebration to promote the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., Early said. Because of the efforts of CARE, Lexington has become a more inclusive environment, he said.

Even in a predominantly white town, the community has embraced CARE’s anti-racist movement, LeBlanc said.

“This town understands that if you want to stop racism, white people need to be just as active as black people,” he said.

Providing students with diverse perspectives early in their education is a step towards an anti-racist society and teaches youth to embrace people from all backgrounds, LeBlanc said.

“For children to see that it is glorious to be inclusive, that’s the greatest gift we can give to the future,” LeBlanc said.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Ring-tum Phi Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *