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Erica Yu poses for a portrait beside the Little Free Library outside her home in Oakville, Ont. on Sept. 12, 2020.

Marta Iwanek/ The Globe and Mail

The organizer: Erica Yu

The pitch: Diversifying little free libraries across Toronto

Erica Yu was watching a television program last June when she saw an item about an innovative program in the United States that encourages people to read books that examine race and racism.

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The initiative was launched by Sarah Kamya, a school teacher in New York who has been raising money to stock little free libraries in her neighbourhood with books by authors who are Black, Indigenous and people of colour, or BIPOC. Ms. Kamya had found that people who had started little free libraries – small boxes of free books set up outside houses – had filled them mainly with titles by white authors, which portrayed white characters.

Ms. Yu, who is also a teacher, loved the idea and decided to try it out around her home in Oakville, Ont. The COVID-19 pandemic had closed most schools so Ms. Yu had time to raise money and begin distributing books. She collected about $1,800 in donations and began looking for books among First Nations publishers and independent book stores. “I thought it important to include a wider range of voices, especially Indigenous,” she said.

Ms. Yu raised money to buy books by BIPOC and other underrepresented authors through a GoFundMe campaign.

Marta Iwanek/ The Globe and Mail/The Globe and Mail

She’s now distributed around 320 books to 91 little free libraries around Toronto, and she’s set up her own book exchange in front of her house. Some of the books she has distributed include; I Am Not a Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer; The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad and The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson.

Ms. Yu recalled how one of her neighbours borrowed a book on Malala Yousafzai and told her how much she enjoyed learning about the Nobel Prize winner. “That was a really great moment because it showed me that this goal that I had of providing opportunities for continued learning and conversation about books is being achieved,” she said.

Ms. Yu, 25, is just beginning her career in teaching and she has been working with a tutoring company. She plans to keep expanding the little libraries project by reaching out to more BIPOC publishers and writers in the LGBTQ community. “I plan to keep this going as long as I possibly can," she said.


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