Jocelyn Coleman Walton spent 32 years in schools as a teacher and administrator. But as a child growing up in Boston, Ms. Coleman Walton never thought she could work in education.
A career in education never occurred to her, she said, because in all her years of schooling she only had one teacher who, like her, was black. She did not realize it was possible until she got to Morgan State, a historically black university, and was surrounded by teachers who looked like her.
“If we don’t see ourselves represented, then we don’t realize we can be the kind of person we want to be,” Ms. Coleman Walton said in a phone interview with the Gazette.
Representation and education form the basis of the Martha’s Vineyard Diversity Coalition’s new program to give $300 grants to Island schools for books to promote racial equity. The project was launched in the spring of 2021 and since then each Island public school and six preschools have signed on, Ms. Coleman Walton said.
Many school librarians embraced the opportunity because it gave them a chance to buy books which had long been on their wish list but could afford, she said. They selected books from a list compiled by the diversity coalition and ones that were previously on their radar.
The expertise of librarians was crucial because they were able to take their knowledge of books and the students they serve to develop lists which were age-appropriate and enticing to readers, Ms. Coleman Walton said.
“To a person they’ve been just so ecstatic…this grant allowed them to just expand their libraries beyond anything that they had imagined,” she said.
In addition to teaching students about racism, it was important to pick books which were written by and prominently feature characters of color so kids can see their identities represented, Ms. Coleman Walton said.
“The variety is what’s good. There are books about people of color, they weren’t just necessarily African American kids books but all different nationalities,” she said. “A lot of the books were too about self love, and when I say self love I mean you accept yourself as you are.”
The book project dovetails with another initiative the group is sponsoring to bring people of color into schools to read to elementary school students, Ms. Coleman Walton said.
“It’s just so rewarding to read to the kids and watch their faces as they hear the stories and see the pictures,” she said.
The movement around the country to ban books that teach kids about racism has not deterred the diversity coalition in carrying out the project, Ms. Coleman Walton said.
“That just puts more fight in us,” she said. “We can’t let controversy or someone else’s opinion about the value of a book silence us.”