Bridge Builders, a nonprofit in the Bonton neighborhood of South Dallas, has recently opened a Black and Brown library called the Lit Lab. The library’s purpose is to showcase only Black and Brown authors and characters in hopes that the children can have a relatable experience while reading.
Tracy Lindsey, director of the kids program, says the lack of diversity in books within the education system concerns him.
“Oftentimes we forget that in a school space — not the fault of the children more of the system and the systematic oppression that goes on — our kids don’t get to read books that have Black authors and Black main characters,” Lindsey says.
“Seventy-seven percent of books that are made for children either have a white main character or an animal. So children are more susceptible to see an animal than someone that looks like themselves.”
Joey Darwin, Bridge Builders director of community service, says it’s important to have this library not just for Black and Brown kids but for everyone.
“People like me need to put these books in our libraries and in our homes so we can also truly see the lived experience of the people,” he says. “Everybody knows what my life has been like; I grew up in Rockwall, Texas, white guy, middle-class — that’s every book, every story, every movie. Putting Black stories in front of white people is just putting the real stories in front of everybody.”
The Lit Lab was created after a student showed Lindsey his report card, which had all As but a failing grade in English. It was that moment that prompted staff to get involved with each student’s progress in reading.
“We did research that shows the kids in lower socioeconomic areas learn 30 million less words than kids that are in higher socioeconomic areas,” Lindsey says. “Reading just helps you grow. If I’m reading a book about skiing and I’ve never been skiing, I now know about skiing.”
Books titled “Young Gifted and Black,” “I Believe I Can,” and “My Hair is a Garden” are featured in the library to show Black children they can be anything they put their minds to.
“Too many times we see situations where kids have been upset about someone saying something about my hair or why my skin is so dark,” Lindsey says. “We want our kids to be proud of who they are. To see themselves in a book or to see themselves in a story, I feel, helps.”
Bridge Builders hopes that by this time next year they’ll have cultivated their literacy program by possibly partnering with Headstart to bring some of their programs to the Lit Lab. They welcome community members who want to volunteer to read to the students.
To donate books to the Lit Lab, drop them off at 6601 Bexar Street, Dallas, Texas 75215 or call 469.621.5984.