Celebrating banned books and Dr. King

Thousands of books have been labeled as banned; books that represent and inspire diverse children in the United States. 

Paired with a service for Martin Luther King Jr, the Diversity & Inclusion Fellows Rec & Read Remix and student leaders of African-American Affairs gathered at Mankato Youth Place to read banned Black children’s books Monday. 

“Dr. King very clearly honored the black community and represented the black community. What better way than to celebrate books that represent the black community?” said speech language pathologist Assistant Prof. R. Danielle Scott. 

From Jan. 1 until Aug. 31, 2023, a record-breaking 1,915 titles were challenged for potential banning — a 20% increase from the same time period in 2022 according to the American Library Association. 

Most of these books were written by or about a person of color or member of the LGBTQ+ community. 

“The book banning is just really reflective of the fear surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion,” Scott said. 

Scott, who has worked as a SLP in Atlanta and Houston, said she recalls a diverse environment with many different spoken languages, where children benefited from inclusion. In Mankato, where diversity is more sparse, children of color rely on books where they can feel represented. 

“You can’t learn if what material is presented to you, you are not responding to it,” Scott said. “Just being able to see their experience will help them develop the skills that we want them to help.”

Utilizing books that are being challenged today were helpful to Scott’s practice as an SLP.

“Being a speech therapist, I’m trying to get kids to talk; well, they talk about what they know,” Scott said. “It made my life so much easier. ‘Oh my gosh, they love this book,’ It’s more language. And I saw it from that place.”

MSU Senior Xavier Thomas balances being the President of Black Intelligent Gentleman, a member of the Black Student Union, and the Diversity of Equity and Inclusion Coordinator. He has also volunteered at Mankato Youth Place for a year. 

“The lessons we learned from the Civil War is still impacting this day; it didn’t go away,” Thomas said. “Same thing with a banned book; even if you ban it, the message is still needed and needs to be out there in the public.”

As someone who indulges in comics and graphics, Thomas stresses the importance of a character to look up to.

“A lot of times we don’t have a role model, so you see a character that’s very, very similar to you, you just relate to them. It’s easy to relate,” Thomas said. 

As an alumna from Spelman College in Atlanta, Scott was taught by civil rights activist and sister of MLK, Christine King Ferris. She also attended the same church as MLK, and was familiar with grand celebrations on MLK day. The inspiration for Monday’s event was driven by the lack of celebration for the holiday in Mankato in past years. 

“You realize his (MLK’s) message wasn’t just equality, treat everybody the same. His message is equity,” Scott said.” His message is about giving people what they need, and black people have not been given what they need.” 

Students involved in the Diversity and Inclusion Fellows of the SLP are traveling to Mankato Youth Place weekly to continue to inspire and educate children. 

“The same books that we read every week are being banned across the country,” Scott said. “I want them (the children) to know that their stories are valid, and it’s OK, and there’s no shame in reading books that represent them because there’s no shame in who they are.”

Write to Mercedes Kauphusman at mercedes.kauphusman@mnsu.edu

Header Photo: Students from Minnesota State read banned Black children’s books to children at Mankato Youth Place on Monday for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. (Courtesy MSU Communication Sciences and Disorders Facebook)

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