Gwendolyn Reese and the African American Heritage Association announced the “I Love Banned Books” book club for children starting in October.
BY NICOLE SLAUGHTER GRAHAM, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — The African American Heritage Association announced the “I Love Banned Books” book club, which aims to combat educational censorship, at its August installment of Community Conversations at Tombolo Books on Aug. 16.
The book club is designed for children in the first through 12th grades and will be segmented into groups so that books read and club discussions are age-appropriate. Students will read books currently banned in Florida and beyond, and monthly club meetings will provide a safe and inclusive space to discuss the ideas, experiences and concepts in the books.
“If they won’t teach our children our history in the classroom, then we will make sure they learn it in the community,” Gwendolyn Reese, president of the AAHA, said, noting that the book club is one of many initiatives the AAHA is committed to facilitating. She also stated that in the coming months, the Timbuktu School for African and African American Studies will resume after its hiatus because of the pandemic.
In July, a list of 87 book titles was under review with the Pinellas County School Board for potential removal from classrooms and libraries. Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” was banned — then returned after heated debate — to Pinellas County school libraries. The Disney movie that told the story of Ruby Bridges, the 6-year-old African-American girl and the first to integrate the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans, was pulled from classrooms and then reinstated by the Instructional and Media Review Committee.
Teachers, librarians and school administrators continue to express fear and exasperation with the steadfast censorship in public education due to book bans and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Stop-WOKE Act. From AP classes to books and movies, Florida’s children have less access than ever to comprehensive educational materials that present varied viewpoints and experiences.
Reese said that the Black community is no stranger to being denied access to education, and it has long circumvented censorship systems. The book club is another way the community will ensure that students receive the education they have a right to.
“In some ways, I am grateful for the banning of books and the Stop-WOKE Act from the man in Tallahassee,” she said, “because it’s awoken us from our apathy. We have taken our education and the education into our own hands for generations, and we will do it again.”
To remove barriers to access, the Heritage Association will ensure that any child who wants to participate in the club be provided the books free of charge. Children are encouraged to keep their books after the club meetings so that they can build their home libraries.
The Heritage Association has partnered with Tombolo Books to distribute books and help support the initiative. The bookstore has a page on its website dedicated to information and updates regarding the “I Love Banned Books” book club.
Reese stresses that the book club is for any child — regardless of race, religion, gender identity, socioeconomic status or other defining characteristics.
“All children need access to these stories and experiences. That is how we move forward.”
Tombolo Books is currently accepting book donations to ensure that every child who wants to participate has their own book. The Heritage Association is also taking monetary donations to buy books for students.
Click here for more information on contributing or signing your scholar up for the book club.