Traverse City News and Events

Antiracism Programs Expand, Including Virtual Book Fair To Support Diverse Authors In TCAPS Libraries

By Beth Milligan | Sept. 18, 2020

Efforts to expand antiracism programming are gaining momentum in northern Michigan, including a new partnership between Brilliant Books and Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) librarians to add more diverse authors to school libraries through a virtual book fair and local companies funding racial justice training through the nonprofit Title Track.

Downtown Traverse City bookstore Brilliant Books is launching an entirely virtual book fair today in partnership with TCAPS librarians to highlight diverse authors and antiracism books. The book fair will feature a range of elementary, middle school, and high school titles, from the Antiracist Baby board book by Ibram X. Kendi to the Chinese American-focused YA book Front Desk by Kelly Yang to more mature titles for older students, such as The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

While the book fair aims to draw attention to a specific list of diverse works, its larger goal is to serve as a community fundraiser for TCAPS libraries. Twenty-five percent of proceeds from all book sales through Brilliant Books – not only from those on the featured list, but any store titles – will be donated back to school libraries in the form of store credit. Special links are available to shop online to support either the elementary, middle school, or high school library funds. Librarians from those grade levels will in turn use their store credit to purchase diverse book titles for TCAPS school libraries. The virtual book fair has no set end date and will be live for the foreseeable future.

“There’s no limit to the money that can be raised,” says Brilliant Books owner Peter Makin. “Although we hope people will buy some of the titles off the (book fair) list, you could also do your entire Christmas shopping and assign the proceeds to the high school and we’d be glad to help them out. They really need it; the schools have less funding and staffing right now.”

The idea for the virtual book fair was born out of a petition this summer by 2015 TCAPS graduate Ashley Ko to diversify the district’s curriculum and incorporate the histories and experiences of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) into classroom materials. Ko, who is Asian-American, says she only recalls reading two books by non-white authors during her K-12 experience at TCAPS.

“Growing up, I never saw people who looked like me celebrated on the screen or in books or talked about in the classroom,” she says. “Wanting representation and being able to read stories about myself was never political. It was about shaping my identity and celebrating my culture, versus being ashamed…I think that’s why this change is needed. There is great literature written by non-white authors that deserves to be celebrated, too.”

Changing curriculum materials, however, requires a laborious review and approval process that can take months – if not years – to wind through a board curriculum committee and the TCAPS board of education. Newly hired TCAPS Superintendent Dr. John VanWagoner has promised to pursue antiracism training and a potential curriculum review as an initiative. In the meantime, however, Traverse City Central High School Librarian Larissa VanderZee notes that library staff have autonomy and freedom to buy diverse books immediately for school libraries. That’s because library books are not assigned to students, but simply made available to them as an option.

A former student of VanderZee’s, Jillian Manning – a Traverse City children’s author and PR/media manager at Traverse City Tourism – sought to support Ko’s campaign and suggested that “the easiest and fastest way to get more diverse titles into the school was through the library,” VanderZee says. Manning contacted Brilliant Books about the idea of holding a virtual book fair and helped connect the bookstore and TCAPS librarians; Ko provided a recommended reading list for diverse titles to feature. Manning says as a former book editor, she is passionate about promoting diverse authors and “didn’t have a lot of access” to such writers while at TCAPS. “My hope is to get books by diverse authors into kids’ hands…it’s easy to stay in your bubble, and reading is a great way to get out of it,” she says, adding that the book fair additionally helps support a locally owned bookstore during a difficult year for retailers.

VanderZee says TCAPS librarians have already been working the last several years to better diversify their collections – including not just BIPOC voices but those from the LGBTQ+, disabled, chronic illness, and other marginalized communities. “We don’t want it to just be a one-off book…we need to have a range of books,” she says. “There has been a bigger push in the library world to make sure all students are represented and all narratives are represented in the texts in libraries. Kids need to see their own struggles represented.” Makin adds he’s seeing growing interest in these issues in the broader community as well, particularly on the antiracism front in the wake of George Floyd’s killing. “On our most recent sales list, four of the five top bestsellers are antiracist books or books by diverse authors,” he says. “It shows that in our extraordinarily white town, people are keen to be more educated on this issue.”

Other groups are also working to promote antiracism efforts in the Traverse City region, including Northern Michigan E3 (formerly the Antiracism Task Force) and nonprofit Title Track, which has begun offering a five-week training course for “white people ready to lean into the racial justice movement” called Understanding Racial Justice. In a recent press release, Cherry Republic President Bob Sutherland announced the company was granting $6,000 to Title Track to help fund the program. Sutherland said Cherry Republic had been “uncharacteristically silent on recent local and national racial issues as we searched for a positive way to contribute,” and that he hoped the Understanding Racial Justice program could contribute to making northern Michigan “one of the most racially equitable regions in the country.” Sutherland added he was excited for Cherry Republic staff to experience the course.

Short’s Brewing Company is also partnering with Title Track on an initiative called Craft Libations for Collective Liberation. Owner Joe Short, who sits on Title Track’s board of directors, announced his company will donate $5,000 toward a $25,000 fundraising goal to host five events across Michigan open to the brewing community for antiracism and anti-oppression training. “These events are designed to provide a better understanding of racial justice and the steps needed to create meaningful, lasting change on the path to equity and inclusion for all – which is especially relevant in an industry made up of mostly white males,” Short’s said in a press release.

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