Family Literacy of Georgia and Little Free Library seek to eliminate ‘book deserts’

A program seeking to bring higher literacy levels to communities across the globe recently partnered with a local organization with similar goals for communities in the metro Atlanta area, including south DeKalb County.

Minnesota-based nonprofit Little Free Library found that its newly launched initiative Read in Color dovetailed with the mission of Family Literacy of Georgia to “improve communities of color by increasing access to quality books and literacy resources,” according to Family Literacy Founder and Executive Director Shavawn P. Simmons.

Explaining Little Free Library’s broader purpose, its website states, “Our vision is a Little Free Library in every community and a book for every reader. We believe all people are empowered when the opportunity to discover a personally relevant book to read is not limited by time, space, or privilege.” The organization, the website further explains, aspires to “be a catalyst for building community, inspiring readers, and expanding book access for all through a global network of volunteer-led Little Free book exchange boxes.”

Little Free Library selected 10 major U.S. markets, including the Atlanta area, for the roll-out of Read in Color, which specifically targets communities that include large numbers of people of color. In partnership with Family Literacy of Georgia, the program came to communities in the metro area, including south DeKalb County. At Gresham Park Christian Church at Flat Shoals Road and Clifton Church Road in Decatur, the Little Free Library was launched with a ribbon-cutting at which Simmons explained the program following the church’s Family and Friends Day.

Church members and representatives of Family Literacy of Georgia gathered briefly around the new Little Free Library Feb. 18 following morning worship to slice a bright yellow ribbon and celebrate the new community asset.

In an agreement between Family Literacy of Georgia and Gresham Park Christian Church, the literacy nonprofit provided the church with a new, unpainted book-sharing structure and a starter set of diverse books chosen with marginalized communities in mind.

The church agreed to paint and install the Little Free Library, a small waterproof cabinet-like structure perched atop a pole like an oversized birdhouse. It also agreed to keep the Little Free Library in good condition and filled with books for a minimum of one year, collecting, organizing, and stocking books as needed. “Regular upkeep is minimal,” Simmons said, explaining that a study conducted by Little Free Library indicated that 86 percent of organizations sponsoring Little Free Libraries spend less than two hours a week stewarding their libraries.

The church, like other partner institutions, also agreed to host such community events as children’s story hours or other book-centered gatherings and to share photos that Family Literacy of Georgia may use to promote the program.

Painted an eye-catching brick red, the little library in front of Gresham Park Church will primarily offer books selected to appeal to Black youth. Community members are invited to come at any hour and take away books.

“We are thrilled to announce that Gresham Park Christian Church through its Youth and Education Committee has become the first in our community to have a Little Free Library,” said Deetra Poindexter, the church’s youth director. “A big thank you to Ms. Simmons and her team from Family Literacy of Georgia, Inc. for their amazing support. Let’s promote the joy of reading and encourage everyone to take a free book and spread the word.”

Family Literacy of Georgia is striving to eliminate book deserts—geographic areas that lack access to quality books other than school textbooks. A book desert is measured by the number of books within a family’s home as well as brick-and-mortar installations, the organization’s website states. The benchmark for a household is 100 books.

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, students who report fewer than 100 books in their homes average three years behind in academic achievement.

The community surrounding Gresham Park Christian Church, approximately two miles from South DeKalb Mall, qualifies as a book desert.
For more information about Family Literacy of Georgia and Little Free Library’s Read in Color program, visit www.familyliteracyga.org.

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