Albion College Children’s Book Giveaway a Success

April 21, 2022

A group of people posing outside for a photo.

Albion College staff pause for a moment to pose for a photo amidst a fun day of handing out books in the Albion community. Clockwise from left: Ari McCaskill, executive director of special programs; Donte’ Hopkins, cultural and capacity coordinator; Niqo Bullock, assistant director of campus life; Keena Williams, ’09, chief belonging officer; and Brittany Burch, assistant director of special programs and community relations.

By Ariel Berry

Saturday, April 16, a group of Albion College faculty and staff boarded a Brit Bus full of children’s books and ventured into the community, handing out free books to eager kids. The program was organized by Albion’s School for Public Purpose and Professional Advancement (SPP) and Office of Belonging.

Initially meant to coincide with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Convocation and Community Celebration, when the Convocation was rescheduled to March 1, the organizers decided to rethink the book giveaway’s logistics. “We decided to make it a book tour,” says Brittany Burch, assistant director of special programs and community relations for SPP. She says organizers decided to wait until the weather warmed up a bit, and then get out in the community, reaching children where they live and go to school.

SPP Dean Dr. Ashley Woodson described the broader strategy for the event. “Chief Belonging Officer Keena Williams, Ford Institute Executive Director Eddie Visco and I discussed possibilities for a creative outreach opportunity that achieved or even exceeded past practice,” she says. “A book giveaway, particularly books about Dr. King, teaches about his commitments, is evidence of our evolving institutional commitments, and speaks to the clear Albion community commitment to racial literacy, historical consciousness and access to civic knowledge for our colleagues and neighbors.”

Promoting reading in the community is essential, Burch says. “Early childhood language and literacy skills are so important,” she says, because “kids are put on certain paths based on the amount of words that they know. And so the more you put books in kids’ hands, the more they will succeed.”

Literacy might seem like a small thing now, but it has huge real-world implications. “One of the big things that people, especially in the Black community, are trying to combat is the preschool-to-prison pipeline,” Burch says. “And this is one of the main ways: increasing their language levels, getting books that they may be interested in reading, because there’s people on the book that actually look like them.”

Williams, ’09, agrees that representation matters. “The book giveaway promotes belonging in the community by exposing young people to authors of color,” she says. “As an institution of higher learning, we have a responsibility to pose conversation around literacy, therefore creating a pathway to higher education for our local student body. It is equally important to highlight Black and Brown authors and for students to be able to see stories about themselves that build a connection to literature.”

Donte’ Hopkins, culture and capacity coordinator for SPP, remarked of the giveaway that “Black experiences and stories have historically and contemporarily been unpublished and unseen. Children’s books are an integral part of our young people’s crafting of their understanding of themselves and one another. This giveaway was thought up by our departments to support child literacy in Albion, and to support love of oneself and another with these Black stories.”

Burch reflects that “books are the opening to a whole new world for many and it’s our duty as an institution to expose as many young minds as possible.” She adds, “The event this weekend was successful and we plan to do this again in the future.”