It is Important for All of Us to See Ourselves In Books
For the third year in a row, the Zimmerman Library hosted an all-day African American Read-In for students on Teel Campus. To celebrate Black History Month and highlight literature by African American authors, librarians Ms. Whitney Etchison, Ms. Diana Michel and Ms. Mary Carrington covered the shelves in a variety of books ranging from literary classics to contemporary graphic novels. Students from Upper School Art Club and Multicultural Alliance also decorated the library with original artwork and poetry written by African American authors. With snacks, comfy seats and quiet nooks around every corner, it was a great day to grab a book and read-in.
Part of a Growing Movement
Our library is part of a growing movement to make literature a focus during Black History Month. According to the National Council for the Teachers of English website, “The National African American Read-In is the nation’s first and oldest event dedicated to diversity in literature. It was established in 1990 by the Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English to make literacy a significant part of Black History Month. This initiative has reached more than 6 million participants around the world.”
As the founder of the African American Read-In Dr. Jerrie Cobb Scott said, “It is important for all of us to see ourselves in books.”
A Community Effort
Ms. Carrington, Ms. Etchison and Ms. Michel work very closely with our students to develop strong relationships and a sense of trust. They strive to make every student feel known and valued — whether that means helping with research, troubleshooting tech, recommending books or just talking about what’s going on in their lives. They create unique programs and events to encourage students to engage with reading and books. And they provide a comfortable space for students to express themselves, explore relevant issues and spend time with one another. When they put out a call to help prepare for the Read-In, they had no shortage of volunteers.
“This year we sought out student input in order to make the event as meaningful as possible. This came in the form of the Art Club and Multicultural Alliance working together to create beautiful displays of faces with different skin tones and hair styles. What has been a single day event in past years turned into a days-long project that required the help of numerous students. To me, the process and teamwork were just as impactful (and fun!) as the African American Read-In itself.” — Library Associate Ms. Michel
Yeala Grimes ‘21, Kendall Jacobsen ‘19, Chela Cunningham '21, Mo Terry ‘19 and others worked during club times and afterschool to create artwork and select lines of poetry to accompany each visual piece. Middle School students Margaret Cravens ‘23 and Madie Wright '23 created promotional flyers to post around school. And the day before the event, students from both Upper and Middle School volunteered what time they could to put the finishing touches in place.
A Mission-Driven Event
It is part of the Zimmerman Library’s mission to maintain a diverse and growing collection. The Read-In was an opportunity to draw attention to one particular lens in that vision. With artwork on display and the sounds of American soul, jazz and R&B playing in the background, it was more than a celebration of these authors. It was a day to immerse ourselves in the art, culture and experiences of African Americans throughout history.
The mission statement reads,“The Severn School Libraries collaborate with teachers across disciplines to prepare students for their futures. Through their support of the school’s curriculum, the Libraries ensure that Severn graduates are skilled and ethical users of information. The Libraries foster the love of reading and lifelong learning by maintaining a robust collection that caters to diverse backgrounds, perspectives, interests, and opinions.”
"We want to celebrate ALL of us — not just the traditional canon of white male authors. So observing Black History Month by pulling all the books we own by African American writers is our way to celebrate a really large body of books we have collected in our library. It’s an impressive array, and the kids are having a great time digging in. It warms my heart to see kids cuddling up on a bean bag chair with a new book they have chosen and relaxing to the tunes of Sam Cook. ” —Director of Library Services Ms. Carrington
"Throughout the day, we had over 125 students come to read. There's nothing better to a librarian than seeing a student relaxing in a comfy chair, engrossed in a story, so this is always one of my favorite days of the year. I'd also like to give a big thank you to the teachers who brought their classes in for the event; we love it when students see that you value reading." — Assistant Librarian Ms. Etchison