TRI-CITIES, WA- Instead of asking for a gift on her birthday, Valari Parmenter Mejia wanted to make a difference in her community.
After reading statistics about the lack of children books created about people of color, she wanted to make sure children of the Tri-Cities got a more diverse collection of books. On her birthday, she requested that all her Facebook friends donate a book to her featuring a person of color. At the end of her drive she collected 624 books that she donated to every Tri-Cities elementary school and early learning center's library, as well as future plans to donate to every public library in the Tri-Cities once Phase 3 comes for Benton and Franklin counties.
"I thought maybe one way I can try and make a change is to introduce more books featuring black and people of color children stories into our schools," said Mejia.
Her donation didn't just feature stories of people of color but also stories featuring the LGBTQ community and stories of people with different learning abilities. Mejia who has a Latino son wants her child to read stories with characters who look like him. In order to fulfill that desire and to find books that she could donate, she visited a website called the conscious kid to identify what books really drove home that message of diversity.
"It is important to make sure that we are providing stories to our children where we see people of color represented as a positive protagonist and let them see that there is someone like them in that book, "said Mejia.
Michelle Melville, who is a teacher librarian at Vista Elementary has seen that experience first hand in her classroom. After reading Hair Love, a story of a black father and his daughter struggling to do her hair, some of Melville's students were excited to see their experience come to life in the form of a picture book.
"They related to this experience and I saw them sit up and they are looking around to show their friends that's me, I understand that girl, she is my story," said Melville.
Melville hopes that others start to understand that there are a ton of books that feature people of color. She wants libraries to put an emphasis on finding those stories to put in their collection.
"There is no reason that every library shouldn't have a diverse collection because there is just a wealth of material out there now," said Melville.
Although her drive is completed Mejia encourages others to make donations to the conscious kid so that other classrooms across the country can get the same resource.