Promoting Literacy and Diversity Through Local Libraries

This project celebrates local authors while promoting libraries as an essential literary and civic hub. In 2020, the collaboration’s inaugural Communities Create Award went to Planting People Growing Justice Leadership Institute, led by Dr. Artika Tyner, for the novel Justice Makes A Difference.

Planting People Growing Justice Leadership Institute Wins Minnesota’s First-Ever Communities Create Award


The Minnesota Author Project is a collaboration between the Minnesota Library Foundation, the Twin Cities’ Metropolitan Library Service Agency (MELSA), and BiblioLabs, a Charleston-based software-media company. This project celebrates local authors while promoting libraries as an essential literary and civic hub. In 2020, the collaboration’s inaugural Communities Create Award went to Planting People Growing Justice Leadership Institute, led by Dr. Artika Tyner, for the novel Justice Makes A Difference. Since winning the prize, Planting People has continued to collaborate with MELSA on improving racial equity, inclusion, and literacy.

“We’re doing everything we can to support Dr. Tyner’s work,” says Sarah Hawkins, project manager at MELSA. “We couldn’t have asked for a better inaugural winner.” Hawkins reported that Dr. Tyner’s success has already attracted local writers looking to learn about their publishing tools. “Our goals are to support first books, promote literacy, and build an authentic connection with schools, parents, and the wider community,” says Hawkins.

Artika R. Tyner

The Communities Create Award was established to honor work by community organizations and people who don’t necessarily think of themselves as authors. Entries could include anthologies or local histories compiled by grassroots activists with a social justice mission. “One of our contestant submissions was a sixth-grade classroom anthology. We want to see a positive digital footprint for people of all ages,” says Hawkins.

The award’s sponsor, BiblioLabs, designs custom submission pages for local writers to share their work through the library’s community collections. Using these community engagement tools, libraries take an active role in encouraging local talent to produce new work. “As a teenager, I would have absolutely used these tools to create my own books and share them with my community. Imagine what I could have done with these tools when I was younger. I can’t wait to see it continue.” says Dr. Tyner.

Dr. Tyner grew up in the Rondo Neighborhood of St. Paul, where she frequented the public library. “The librarians knew my name,” says Dr. Tyner. “The library was my recreational place, my refuge. If I can spark that interest in one child, then my mission is accomplished!”

Through Planting People Growing Justice, Dr. Tyner promotes literacy and diverse authors to inspire young people of color to tell their own stories. “It’s important that kids see books that reflect their lives. Once, a father told me about giving our book to his daughter. The little girl said, ‘Daddy, it’s me!’”

Justice Makes A Difference, written by Dr. Tyner and Jacklyn Milton, is the story of Justice, a girl who realizes that her name is her destiny. Justice’s grandmother teaches her about important historical figures who changed the world: Ella Baker, Shirley Chisholm, Charles Hamilton Houston, Dr. Wangari Maathai, Paul Robeson, and Ida B. Wells. Inspired to follow in their footsteps, Justice dreams of becoming a change-maker called “Miss Freedom Fighter, Esquire,” a superhero with a law degree.

In 2020, Justice Makes A Difference became the sixth most circulated BiblioLabs-curated title nationwide. “I hope our book is a spark for libraries across the country to recognize the talented authors of color in their backyards. Libraries should have racial equity statements, a clear strategic plan, and publicly-shared metrics for measuring success. A clear access point is essential. Diverse authors like me should know who is responsible for inclusion and equity in each branch.”

Jacklyn Milton

At the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis, Dr. Tyner serves as a law professor and founding director of the Center on Race, Leadership and Social Justice. “As a civil rights attorney, I understand how fundamentally important reading is to social justice issues. Many of my clients learn how to read in prison. Eighty-five percent of kids in juvenile justice facilities are illiterate. I know the impact of illiteracy on a child’s future. On a scale of one to ten, this ignites my passions to a thousand.”

Supporting the development of diverse talent is a key priority for the Minnesota Author Project. “We want to help create content and discover content as well,” says Hawkins. “By elevating quality books like Dr. Tyner’s, we elevate the local connection. You don’t have to have a library card and it is always available within the state. Dr. Tyner’s work raises awareness and we are going to count on her to keep pushing us.”

For more information about the Minnesota Author Project and the Communities Create Award, please visit: https://indieauthorproject.librariesshare.com/minnesota-creates/

 

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