Not long ago, my good friend Rana asked if she could do anything to help the Ferguson Municipal Public Library and I had followed the buzz around the social media campaign to get them books and resources while they remained opened during protests. Their library is one of the first things I began to monitor closely as students were showing up and volunteers were helping the people seeking a safe haven. Rana offered to immediately send 25 copies of one of the titles that Little Pickle Press publishes titled What Does it Mean to Be Safe? that she wrote and that Sandra Salsbury illustrated.
If I were completely honest I would have to mention that the fact that there's an adorable brown boy on the cover of the book makes me happy so I was thrilled that she was donating them.
Between Rana's offer and 2 days ago, I realized that taking the books there personally was going to be my preferred method. She could have mailed them but I like that they came to my home first. As I waited for the books to arrive I read in the LA Times that the library in Ferguson had received over $350,000 in donations.
Since I'm an avid Reddit reader, I learned that the library director, Scott Bonner, would be doing an AMA (Ask Me Anything) and I followed it religiously. Everything I was reading started to thaw my blackened, frozen heart so by the time I read that author John Green would be donating books (and was, subsequently, embarrassed for not doing so privately) I shared a screenshot of that on my Facebook page.
By this time, I reached out to Scott Bonner myself by calling the library and asking if I could help in any way. A lovely library worker answered my questions (apparently, Scott has been super busy and wasn't available) and said that the donations they've been receiving from all over the world were a bit overwhelming but also quite wonderful.
Naturally, I asked her, "What would be most helpful to the library at this time?"
"VOLUNTEERS," she said enthusiastically. "We have a lot of boxes of books that need organizing."
"Great," I told her. "I live in Springfield and can be there all day this Saturday."
I took to social media again and asked if any friends would like to join me. Part of me figured that some of my local friends might want to hop in the car with me (and they did!) and that some friends in the St. Louis area would also drop by for the day (and they did!). Honestly, though, I didn't expect my friend Jasmine to drive up from Arkansas.
That's not even the thing that floored me the most.
It was seeing a packed library on a Saturday and getting to witness it come alive.
Or maybe it was opening boxes of books with accompanying letters of support, many of which used #BlackLivesMatter somewhere in their writing.
Or maybe it was getting the see the actual books people sent.
Or maybe it was the Congressman's office who sent a note encouraging the library workers.
Or maybe it was the plethora of authors who sent their own books with letters.
Or maybe it was the multicultural titles and deliberate agency people took when choosing books to donate.
Or maybe it was reading the incredibly heartfelt letters people wrote. Sometimes they signed them and sometimes they chose to remain anonymous.
Or maybe it was opening a box from a famous author (whose name I found covered up elsewhere on the box from previous use).
Or maybe it was opening the actual box of John Green titles he sent and waving the card around frantically to my friend DeShanee and screaming, "THESE ARE THE BOOKS HE SAID HE WAS SENDING."
Sure, there was excitement throughout the day but it was mostly a roller coaster of emotions. There were patrons in the library that each of us connected with or smiled at or people who asked who this crew was taking over the children's section with box after box.
Scott told us that the most helpful thing we could do is organize several dozen boxes of donations so our crew split into teams to tackle this. Some worked in the children's section sorting books by children's, YA, and adult. After that, they alphabetized them so that when we boxed them back up we could label them thus making it easier for the library staff to get them into the hands of community members.
It was deeply inspiring to see so many social justice titles donated. Some of the letters denoted that, but one in particular stood out for me from a mixed race librarian who wrote that growing up in the 1970s she found herself seeking books with characters who looked like her.
Now, that I can totally relate to.
We learned that being library volunteers meant that we were all sweaty by the end of the day because there was some serious physical work involved.
Luckily, my own school librarian, Trisha, came with me and helped with titles if some of us didn't know if they were YA or adult.
Many of my friends were meeting one another for the first time and coming together for volunteer work will make lifelong friends of many of them.
I take full credit for knowing some really incredible people and just connecting them.
This is my friend Elizabeth and her daughter. They helped with the children's books.
Most of the pictures of books we took were because so many of them are titles that are going on our own reading lists.
I didn't expect that connecting with some of the Ferguson residents visiting the library would be such a joyful thing, but it was. One of the things I mentioned to my friend Jasmine was that I had a sense that I wasn't always meeting their eyes.
Jasmine is a therapist by trade and she nailed it right away when I mentioned this to her.
"It's connection, Kelly. It's looking people in the eye knowing they are healing and maybe it's some guilt or not wanting to connect because that can be painful."
Right in the gut. She got me.
Scott made sure we filled out volunteer forms so he could have some record and data of our being there and he insisted we take a photo together at the end. Everyone who saw this photo commented on Jaelithe's son on the far right who couldn't stop reading to take a picture.
He worked the entire time and was, like us, anxious to pick up a book to read and not simply organize.
Dude. We all get that.
There's a lot of healing that is already happening in Ferguson and we got to witness just a little bit of that on Saturday. I'm not sure what it is I want to say about that because it's just the beginning and, being there made me realize how much physical and emotional effort it will take.
We did a small thing. I didn't give too much thought to making the trip to Ferguson because I've been watching so many people so much work around protests and education and this thing seemed like it fit. At least for the moment. This statue outside of the library seemed painfully apt of a child watching the world in a book, but I was also reminded of how much the world is watching.
If you're in the area and would like to volunteer, I'm sure Scott and the rest of the staff would appreciate it. We already told him we would return.