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Little Free Library’s Read in Color Initiative Launches in Tulsa

During the final full week of May, which has become synonymous with mourning, reflection, and activism, due to a history of violence stemming from the murder of George Floyd and the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, the Little Free Library nonprofit program added action through early reading. Through its May 27 launch of Read in Color, the Little Free Library, the Hudson, Wisc., organization that expands book access through establishing free libraries within different communities, brought together Tulsa, Okla., leaders with major companies in educational publishing.

While the Little Free Library was founded in 2009, the 2020 murder of George Floyd was the catalyst that led the organization to introduce its Read in Color initiative, which was created to bring diverse stories to Little Free Library book-sharing boxes. Read in Color aims to cultivate empathy, equity, and inclusion by sharing the stories of groups that are traditionally underrepresented and ignored in history and primary education. These stories include those that reflect Black culture.

Joining the Little Free Library in partnership to launch the initiative, Reading Partners Tulsa played an integral role in activating the program in the area. Reading Partners is an Oakland, Calif., nonprofit organization that began in 1999 to offer tutoring in reading to children.

Beginning with Tulsa’s Eugene Field Elementary School, which was the site of the Read in Color launch, there will be 26 new Little Free Library sites organized in the neighborhood. As the community joined together to observe the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, The Black Wall Street Legacy Festival supported initiatives such as the Little Free Library’s Read in Color, as the partnership will provide resources that share voices similar to those of local students. The festival began May 28 in preparation of observing the Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial and will end on June 19, closing with Juneteenth celebrations.

“We're so excited that through the Little Free Library and Reading Partners partnership students, families and the greater community will have more access to texts that feature diverse characters, cultures and content,” said Dr. Tiffany Crutcher, founder of the Terence Crutcher Foundation and the Black Wall Street Memorial.

With its launch in Minneapolis, Minn., in response to the murder of George Floyd, Read in Color adheres to four tenets. These four facets of the initiative include the Read in Color Pledge. Supporters dedicate their efforts to affording a diverse collection of books and access to downloadable resources to all. The Little Free Library installations will feature culturally relevant books to children with the placement of these boxes in communities where the need is high. Complimentary books that reflect diversity will be provided to applying Little Free Library stewards, and when possible, these resources will be purchased from independent bookstores and those owned by underrepresented members of the population, including Black booksellers. The fourth component of Read in Color is the promotion of recommended reading lists that include works reflecting communities such as Black, Indigenous, Asian American and Pacific Islander, Latinx, Muslim, and LGBTQ+.

From within the world of publishing, partners for the Tulsa Read in Color program include HarperCollins Publishers, which organizes its own Read in Full Color campaign, and Scholastic, whose work to promote diversity in reading for all ages includes its The Power of Story initiative.

“When Read in Color launched last year, we were honored to play a part to align with Scholastic's initiative, ‘The Power of Story.’ At its core, Read in Color will encourage book ownership in more communities and help to grow lifelong readers,” said Scholastic's Vice President of Educational Marketing, Lizette Serrano. “Our joint effort in choosing the books that reflect the experiences of young readers of color will inspire them to be true to themselves, embrace who they are and empower them to tell their own stories.”

With the help of HarperCollins, the initiative is hosting a national giveaway of “I Promise,” the children’s book written by LeBron James with artwork by Nina Mata. Through a contest that will end on July 1 at midnight, 100 copies of “I Promise” will be awarded to winners within the United States.

“HarperCollins is thrilled to be partnering with Little Free Library in conjunction with our own Read in Full Color initiative, which spotlights diverse creators and inclusive stories,” explained Nellie Kurtzman, vice president of marketing and publicity for HarperCollins Children's Publishing. “The books under our Read in Full Color umbrella reflect the narratives of the young readers picking them up for the first time and serve as a reminder that these books are important, necessary, and in demand.”

During the remainder of 2021, Little Free Library and HarperCollins will launch Read in Color in Washington, D.C., Detroit, Atlanta, and Phoenix. Read in Color will also become available in New York; Boston; Kalamazoo, Mich.; and Ferguson, Mo.

“Little Free Library believes that sharing diverse author perspectives across our nation's communities deepens empathy and awareness,” Greig Metzger, executive director of LFL. “These robust, diverse book offerings combined with the local programming and placement assistance of Reading Partners Tulsa, will bring our Read in Color program to 26 local elementary schools this year. We are excited to mark the start of our national expansion with such great allies.”

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