Fourth graders from King Arts look over books given out by the Evanston-based group Young, Black & Lit. The organization announced plans to hand out more than 60,000 books during the next year. Credit: Richard Cahan

To celebrate Young, Black & Lit’s fifth anniversary, the organization announced plans to donate more than 60,000 new books this year. This will more than triple the nonprofit’s donations last year, which totaled to 18,000 books.

Young, Black & Lit donates books centering on the experiences of Black children to kindergarten through eighth grade schools in the Chicago area as well as New York City, Detroit, Washington D.C. and Atlanta. It has donated 54,571 books so far.

“We believe that every child deserves to see themselves in the media that they consume,” said Krenice Ramsey, the group’s co-founder.

Krenice and Derrick Ramsey plan to donate more than 60,000 new books this year that reflect the experience of Black children. Credit: Richard Cahan

“When children pick up a book and want to engage with it, it’s important for them to be able to relate to that book,” she said. “One way to do that is just to have someone in the book that looks like you, talks like you, has a family like you.”

The nonprofit kicked off its donation game plan in the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Literary and Fine Arts School library Wednesday, Feb. 15. The Ramseys chose King Arts because it was the first school in Evanston to desegregate.

The nonprofit donated 250 books to the school that day, and another 3,000 books are on the way, Krenice said.

The nonprofit plans to donate 3,000 books a month to the Chicago area, New York City, Detroit, D.C. and Atlanta. In addition, another 13,000 to 14,000 will go to partners in the Chicagoland area and 2,000 books to New York City, Washington D.C., Atlanta and Detroit, which is Derrick’s hometown.

Krenice was born and raised in Evanston. She and her husband moved to Evanston this year with their 8-month-old baby girl. They recently opened an office in the city for Young, Black & Lit.

Krenice’s sister Krystin Madison is a fourth grade teacher at King Arts. Madison brought her class to the library to check out the new books.

“This donation means a lot to the students in my classroom, and honestly, the students here at King Arts, because it provides a windows and mirrors opportunity,” Madison said.

“Windows for children to see into other students’ lives and find those similarities and differences and then mirrors to reaffirm the students of color that I have in my class and allow them to see themselves in the books that they are reading,” she continued. “So we’re super excited to be receiving this donation.”

Young, Black & Lit targets kindergarteners to eighth graders because that age group is among the most vulnerable to lower reading levels. But reading a book they connect to can inspire them to read more books, Derrick said.

“We want kids to look at the books and see themselves and stay excited about the stories that they’re reading,” he said.

Young, Black & Lit also hopes to inspire children to be authors of their own experience.

Starting Feb. 15, students between kindergarten and eighth grade in Atlanta, Detroit, Washington D.C., New York City and Chicago can participate in the nonprofit’s youth author contest. A panel of judges will select two students from each of the five cities, and winners will be published in a book that Young, Black & Lit will donate around the country. Applications close May 1.

Young, Black & Lit is partnering with JoFactor Entertainment, a children’s books publishing company based in suburban Northfield, to publish the book by the 10 contest winners.

“Our mission as a company is to empower children through stories,” said Joanne Boufis, JoFactor co-founder and creative director. “When I first learned that young Black readers don’t read as much because there’s not enough books that they can relate to, I made a decision to help as many Black authors as I can.”

King Arts partnered with Young, Black & Lit at the onset of the pandemic, said Principal Rebecca Calloway. The nonprofit donated books to all of King Arts kindergarten students who were stuck at home during remote learning.

“It’s critical that we had representation across the entire demographic of our student body but particularly who we know is underrepresented,” Calloway said.

Young, Black & Lit started as a passion project when Krenice tried to find a book about Black girls for her niece.

Since 2018, the couple reached out to publishers all over the U.S. in search of children’s books that feature Black characters. It turns out, Derrick said, many publishers don’t keep a list of books written by Black authors or about Black people.

“Now we have a list of almost 1,000 books that we’ve identified,” he added.

These book publishers sell new books to Young, Black & Lit at a discount and the nonprofit gives the books away at no cost.

“The number of books that I’ve seen come up with Black characters has increased, so it’s easier to grow our list,” he said.

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Gina Castro

Gina Castro is a Racial Justice fellow for the RoundTable. She recently earned a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism where she studied investigative reporting....

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