Candice Washington, the founder of the Hyde Park-based nonprofit Brown Books & Paint Brushes, woke up to a gain of 2,000 Instagram followers overnight. The morning after the Black Lives Matter movement swept the nation, parents turned to the Chicago early childhood educator to find out how to talk to their children about what was happening in the world.
Since 2017, Brown Books & Paint Brushes, has been educating young children on African-American culture and healthy racial identity – through art, literacy, social justice and civic engagement programming. The organization’s goal is to teach caring, understanding and empathy.
In response to the racial tension, Washington quickly launched the Free Black Children’s Library Summer Pop-Up Series. These events, held at various neighborhoods throughout the city, provide hundreds of children with free quality children’s books featuring Black authors and illustrators that display an appreciation of Black culture as it relates to race, civic engagement, social justice and human values. All of the books are brand new and sanitized, and the events, which also include food and music, adhere to safe social distancing rules.
“This is a touchy, sensitive subject for everyone,” says Washington. “I believe you need to start the conversation with a book. So many of these books depict an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.”
Washington says the events are designed for children of all races.
“It has been such a big relief to see people get behind the Black Lives Matter Movement,” says Washington. “When I talk to people at these events, they didn’t know that these incidents have been happening for so long.”
Every child, Washington says, should have a few Coretta Scott King award-winning books in their at home library collection. This book award honors outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.
Washington believes we need to learn about each other, and we can start doing it by reading books to our children.
“Once we do, it creates a world of understanding so we can have more empathy and kindness to one another,” she says. “We need to start with younger children. Let’s teach them right now – through books – that diversity is a second language.”
Follow Brown Books & Paint Brushes on Instagram for upcoming pop-up events. Those interested in donating money or books to support the Free Black Children’s Library Summer Pop-Up Series can visit their website.
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This article also appeared in Chicago Parent’s August 2020 magazine.