Janet Damon | Movers & Shakers 2020–Change Agents

As part of a military family, Janet Damon grew up all over the United States and the world. "My dad always anchored me to my new home by taking me to the library. It has been my safe space…both figuratively and literally," she says. So when she became library services specialist in the Denver school district in 2016 and discovered that Montbello Career and Technical High School in Denver had no library, she brought one.

 Sidsel Bech-Petersen 

CURRENT POSITION

Library Services Specialist, Denver Public Schools 

DEGREE

MLIS, University of Denver, 2005

FOLLOW

@mixxmomma; @booksandafros; Facebook AfrosandBooks; raisingtherevolution.org

Photo by Shane Jackson

Literacy Activist

As part of a military family, Janet Damon grew up all over the United States and the world. "My dad always anchored me to my new home by taking me to the library. It has been my safe space…both figuratively and literally," she says. So when she became library services specialist in the Denver school district in 2016 and discovered that Montbello Career and Technical High School in Denver had no library, she brought one.

That classroom "pop-up" library, immediately popular among students, led to plans for a permanent space in 2018. It also illustrated a larger problem. "At one point there wasn’t a…high school library in the entire Montbello community. There were three high schools and not one of them [had] a staffed library.… Potentially a child in this community could have an entire K–12 education without a single library in their educational career." Montbello High’s library inspired other high schools in the Denver school district to reopen and remodel library spaces.

Damon, a self-described "literacy activist," says her role is to connect students to the knowledge and creativity "that allows them to develop their own critical consciousness…as individuals." She advocates for her community (where she resides as well as works) in other ways too. "I am accountable to every child and every parent that I serve. So the initiatives that I lead all center [around] those who are most excluded from power, resources, and access—projects [for] students experiencing homelessness or other…trauma, [that focus on] newcomers and also shine lights on incredible groups like Black Lives Matter 5280, Park Hill Pirates Football team, mental health providers, and local activists who partner with our student book club leaders."

That’s in addition to her work with Afros and Books, a group she founded in 2016 with black, biracial, and LGBTQ+ librarians that promotes diverse authors and stories. She’s also helped bring 2,100 #OwnVoices titles to the district’s ebook and audiobook collections, as well as curated collections like Black Boy Joy, Latinx, and Voices of the Caribbean. The district’s overall circulation passed 1.1 million books last year. "My entire team inspires me with their commitment," Damon says.

To accomplish their goals, they work with families as well as community leaders like therapists, teachers, coaches, shelter managers, activists, indigenous healers, and local officials. They’ve also partnered with all three local colleges and universities on STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) initiatives. "I wake up excited about every project," Damon says, "because it is deep and nourishing work." 

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