Sunday, April 21, 2024

Library Kids and Adults Unite

    When I was growing up in North Miami, there were two places I knew I was always welcome, even if I didn't have money, which was all the time. Both of them were on Stickball Ave., down the street from the high school where I would later graduate. On one side of the street was the public pool, and on the other was the City of North Miami library. As a upper poor kid with lower middle class dreams, I learned how to do two things really well - swim and read. Both had strong programs for neighborhood kids, with lessons, events, and even job opportunities once we got old enough.

    The public pool was where I learned to face my fears and dive off the twenty foot platform. The library was where I learned to face other fears and read the novels on the five foot shelves, out of reach for me at the time.

    The pool is gone now, filled in, dug under, and replaced with the football field and track for the new high school. But the library is still there, and still serving the kids, and adults, of the community. It looks different now, with glass-walled study rooms, a cafe, and rows of computers that were just a sci-fi dream when I was a kid, but there's still reading tutors every day after school and all weekend, writing programs during summer, and librarians willing to help you find a book just a little outside of your range. Even when I still lived in North Miami as an adult, it was where I voted and where I spent hours every day during summer vacation writing in the quiet room.

    So, when I saw Mychal Threets on my Instagram feed, gushing about his love for the local library, I got it. I had forgotten how much that place used to mean to me, and how much it meant to my own kids when the library was often the only place I could afford to take them for some fun, or at least the only place without slides and swings and blazing Miami heat. Mychal reminded me that my younger kids don't go to the library as often as the older ones did, and that since we had moved on up, we had traded colorful displays of books and reading circles for tablets, ebooks, and Amazon deliveries. It's not the same.

    Another thing that struck me about Mychal is how much he reminds me of my son. Similar in age, complexion, with that same curl in his hair and that same love of books. He gets that from me - the love of books, that is, definitely not the curl. He's also a little awkward and has to try a little harder to make friends. He gets that from me as well. 

    Mychal was a blessing to my social media, a rare oasis of joy and goodness in a teeming ocean of trolls and vicious debates and scams. He was an inspiration to kids like mine, mixed kids with limited funds, looking for places in this world where they can be themselves and be welcome.

    And then he was gone. Because he was joyful, they called him weird. Because he was passionate about kids reading and finding community, they called him suspect. And while all of that is terrible, I have to wonder what they called him because he's mixed, African-American and Mexican.

    They hounded him online until he quit, and not just the media campaign, but the library that he loved and loved him back. The same forces that want to take the books about race or racism out of the school libraries and the novels by authors of color off the library shelves attacked a man who outshined every booktoker on the clock app. In my state, there's a particularly virulent effort to kill everything that young readers of color might use to lift their spirits and inform their futures. Back in the 1960s that so many red hats pine for, just a four-hour drive up the coast, they poured acid in the pool rather than desegregate it. It's a different kind of acid they use today, but it works about the same. They flood the school board meetings with it, storm the libraries with it, and drown social media with it, usually using anonymous accounts to hide their faces like a digital hood. The goal seems to be to get rid of every library book like Beloved, and every library worker like Mychal.

    So what can we do? My plan is to continue teaching a diverse group of novels and handling the complaints with patience and advocacy. I'm also trying to write the books that center families like mine. This summer, my youngest kids, and my grandkids, if I can handle it, will be in the library where we live now, as well as the local pool taking swim lessons. The more that we use these resources, the more they get funded. In addition, we can support our libraries with donations and deal with the trolls with whatever means are safest for us, whether those are words or blocks or violation reports. Most of all, we all have elections coming in a few months, and, at least in my state, these issues are on the ballot. Vote for the candidates who are going to protect our books and our librarians instead of running them out of town.

It's time for library adults to stand up for library kids.

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