Meet the Black literacy influencer championing inclusive books for children of color: 'It's really all about access'

·4-min read

As parts of the country continue their efforts to ban books at school libraries, a powerful grassroots movement to get more books into the hands of children is growing.

Blogger Charnaie Gordon recognized the power books have on her two children, Madison, 8, and Barrington, 7, from a very young age. And it was during a trip with them to the library that a comment by her firstborn became a seed to Gordon's now-blossoming passion.

“We were in route to the library and my daughter said, ‘Mom, how come we always have to donate books to the library? Why can't we donate them to other kids who might not have access to books?’” she recalls for Yahoo Life.

Those words soon led to 50 States 50 Books, a non-profit organization led by Gordon that delivers thousands of books telling diverse and inclusive stories to children across the nation — 50 books at a time to each of the 50 U.S. states.

To date, the organization has served over 5,000 children across America.

“We specifically look for diverse books for children, ages birth to 17,” says Gordon, who is also the creator of the blog Here Wee Read. “We look for books about kids being everyday kids,” she adds, explaining that “the children that are featured in these books just so happen to be children of color, just experiencing life.”

In her research, Gordon discovered that children of color bear the burden of America’s broken education system. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, students who do not read proficiently by the third grade are four times less likely to graduate from high school.

“That's a huge problem, and that’s right here in America,” Gordon says of the statistics. "The sooner that you can instill a love of reading within your children, or at least teach them how to read, the better, so that they do stand a chance. Reading opens up the door to so many different opportunities in your world.”

Due to a lack of funding in certain school districts, which disproportionately affects people of color, Gordon says children lack access to quality teachers and literacy resources that can help them navigate who they are and how they fit in the world.

“Access is the biggest thing that most children of color just don't have,” Gordon says. "Growing up, I didn't really have a huge access to books, besides in school. That's where I got most of my books, from the school library. It was a treat to go to our local public library because we really didn't have the transportation to get there. And so, I think one of the biggest things that I realize becoming an adult and becoming a parent is it's really all about access.”

People across the nation eager to receive books can easily fill out an application through 50 States 50 Books's application portal. The same goes for those who are looking to donate as well.

“The types of books that we are looking for or are just diverse stories,” she explains. “People think when they're sending us books like, oh, we have to send them books that feature children of color only. And that's not true. I think diversity is all inclusive of everyone — no matter what your skin tone is.”

“We are looking for books that feature children with disabilities, children who are LGBTQ-plus,” she continues. “Like, all of these things that are just inclusive topics. Books about grief and death, children's books about mental health. There are so many different topics that we accept."

As for the future of the organization, Gordon hopes to expand so that even more books can go into the hands of more children.

"I'm dreaming big," Gordon, a board member of the 55-year-old non-profit Reading is Fundamental, says. "If we had the funds to be able to scale and do things, like have a book mobile where we're able to go around within our tristate area and do things like story time or do our donations, but even more nationwide, I think that would be so fun and so cool to be able to do."

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