‘Celebrate Diversity’ distributes needed books

Having two Salisbury authors included in an anthology that includes both American and international authors is noteworthy, but Grace Foxwell Murdock and Martin Hutchison are involved in another book-related project as well, through the #kindSBY organization.

The Celebrate Diversity campaign has been quietly working to provide books featuring characters and people who look like the children who attend Wicomico County’s public schools. The books are predominantly geared toward elementary students, but some are more appropriate for intermediate or middle school students.

The idea is to make sure children who are ethnically or racially different from the majority will find books they can relate to because they can see themselves in the stories, characters and authors.

“These books will help children see themselves in print as well as seeing authors who look like them,” said Hutchison. “It could also help children gain insight into the lives of children who do not look the same as they do.”

Sonya Whited is Senior Director of Retail Research and Development at the Perdue Farms Innovation Center in Salisbury.

Sonya Whited, 49, Senior Director of Retail Research and Development at the Perdue Farms Innovation Center in Salisbury, grew up in New Jersey, where she said she had a good experience growing up that included several of her favorite teachers who were people of color who looked like her.

“Though the books in school did not reflect the African-American experience,” said Whited, “I attended ‘Afro-American School’ for a few years on Saturdays, which did celebrate me and my culture. This program is embedded in my ‘growing up’ and helped mold me to who I am today.”

Not so for Salisbury Jaycees President D’Shawn Doughty, a senior banker for Bank of America.

“I didn’t have any reflection or knowledge that the books and materials around me did not reflect me and my family until late elementary school,” said Doughty, a member of Wi-Hi’s Class of 2012. “We were reading an excerpt in the language arts book. It wasn’t until the teacher was choosing students to read the various parts of characters, and I was asked to be the Black boy in that portion of the book, that I realized I was different, I was the Black boy. Sadly, this singling out brought knowledge that I was different. But in that moment, my difference was not celebrated.”

Salisbury Jaycees President D’Shawn Doughty, a senior banker for Bank of America.

Whited said because learning to read by the third grade is idea and can help shape your life, as well as the increased interest for people of all ages and level of attention that comes with a familiar environment, the impact of the Celebrate Diversity Campaign – children’s books featuring people like the children themselves and that match their own experiences – is empowering and vital.

She cited the work of Marley Dias, who launched the $1000BlackGirlBooks drive in 2018 and visited Salisbury University in 2018. That campaign set out to collect books that feature African-American children as central characters. Dias also hosts a Netflix show, “Bookmarks,” which focuses on boys and girls.

“The purpose of this campaign – to bring representation of our diverse world to children – definitely has a positive effect,” Whited said.

Doughty agreed.

“In our communities,” he said, “we need to make sure no child feels the way I felt. We need to make sure we are educating our youth, celebrating our differences and producing culturally sound humans. By immersing and introducing cultures in a positive way to our youth, we are making certain that these young people are growing up as accepting, understanding and decent.

Initially, 120 books were needed to launch the project, Murdock said, adding that the plan originally was to also place some of these books in the Little Libraries around the Salisbury area, perhaps in community centers. A wish list on Amazon includes the titles Murdock and Hutchison wish to acquire for school libraries in Wicomico County.

“All books purchased using the wishlist will come to me,” said Murdock. “Our Kindness Commissioners will distribute them to the schools.”

Whited has donated to the campaign.

“This is a great campaign from an organization I truly enjoy — #kindSBY.,” she said. “As a person who truly believes that seeing ourselves represented and celebrating people’s different realities is the biggest impact in our lives – donating to this project was a no-brainer.”

“The sad reality is there’s no shortage of diversity in books,” said Hutchison. “It’s just not there in our schools because those who choose the books select what they are familiar with. It’s just an oversight on their part, they really don’t think about this issue.”

“I want to say thank you to Grace Murdock and the rest of my fellow Kindness Commissioners for their support of the idea that we all are much more alike than we are different,” said Doughty.

Murdock, Hutchison, Whited and Doughty are all members of the #kindSBY and Salisbury’s Kindness Commissioners.

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