This woman brought more books by Black authors to her local library
An Almonte, Ont., woman turned her disappointment at a lack of diversity at the local library into action.
Renée Kokonya Sullivan and her husband Bart Sullivan have been putting on a dance to celebrate Black History Month for the past three years in the small town about 50 kilometres southwest of Ottawa.
Kokonya Sullivan, originally from Kenya, said they fundraise for different causes at the dance each year and after a visit to the library a couple years ago, noticed the lack of books by Black authors and for Black people.
"We were trying to find books and we just didn't find as many books of people that look like us," she said.
Because it was Black History Month, Kokonya Sullivan said she thought there would be posters and a display for all the books by Black authors.
"I was disappointed, you know? And then I thought maybe I was the only one who noticed. But my children did, too, and they love to read," she said.
"It was important that they see themselves in the books that they read at the library."
It's great for other Black people and people of other races to come to the library and see that there's diversity. - Renée Kokonya Sullivan
Through the fundraising that year, the family was able to add 50 books to the library's collection, including titles by Maya Angelou and Harry Belafonte.
And for their part, library staff were happy to help bring more diversity and range to the collection, she said.
"They said in the future if you think of a title that you think we should add to our collection, please let us know," Kokonya Sullivan said.
"They've added to their collection by Black authors as well. Now I see lots of books by Black authors and so yeah it's exciting."
Library making changes
Berta Madrigal, a library assistant at the Almonte branch of the Mississippi Mills Public Library, said the library did have a small collection of books by non-white authors, but it wasn't easy to find.
Madrigal said the library made changes to make some collections — Indigenous, Black and LGBT books — more visible and accessible.
"We are always trying to listen to what the community wants and we realize diversity is a big issue here," she said.
"The demographics [of] Mississippi Mills are changing and they are changing fast."
Kokonya Sullivan said it's important for everyone in Almonte to be able to read different perspectives.
"It's great for other Black people and people of other races to come to the library and see that there's diversity," she said.
"But it's also great for that dominant culture as well."
Kokonya Sullivan's three children, Niah 11, Jahawi, 8, and Tulia, 7, have all been able to find books they enjoy.
Don't Touch My Hair is Niah's favourite book right now. The book centres on a girl who is always having strangers touch her hair without permission, and Niah said that' something she related to.
Kokonya Sullivan said she is happy to have helped broaden the reach of the library.
"It feels good to make an impact and to think about people who are using the books," she said.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.