In the wake of a nationwide battle against critical race theory, some Black students are leading protests against book bans and forming book clubs to provide access to a diverse range of stories.
Christina and Renee Ellis, students at Central York High School, a predominantly white school in Pennsylvania, are among some of the students who are part of the Panther Anti-Racist Union, a student-led racial and social justice advocacy group.
The two sisters have fought alongside their peers in an effort to challenge a ban issued by an all-white school board. The group organized a protest with dozens of students, parents, and educators to challenge the ban targeting works by Black authors, including a book about Rosa Parks; Hidden Figures, a story about Black female mathematicians who helped win the space race; and the documentary film I Am Not Your Negro, which explores the personal observations of the author and cultural critic James Baldwin.
“We didn’t want history to repeat itself, with hiding history, hiding the experiences of people of color in this country,” Renee told NBC News. “We also wanted to make sure that the younger kids underneath got a full education, especially with the murder of George Floyd and the murder of Breonna Taylor and so many other social justice issues in America.”
Protesters stood outside the school, and held signs with slogans like “BLM” and “Education is not indoctrination.” Another ambitious effort was led by Edha Gupta, one of the organizers, who wrote letters to the editor of the city’s newspaper.
The Round Rock Black Students Book Club
Jaiden Johnson, a seventh-grader at Meridian World School in Round Rock, TX, is one of two Black middle school students who brought the Round Rock Black Students Book Club to the community. As a virtual student-led community group, the book club functions as a safe space for students of color to read literature that fosters inclusivity and diversity.
“I wanted a chance for all the Black kids in my community to get together and know each other better and read about Black characters that inspire us and not just about Black people and slavery,” he said.
Despite the book bans, the book club is reading books by banned Black authors books anyway, including Jason Reynolds‘ 2017 novel, Miles Morales, a story about a Black Spider-Man, and Brandy Colbert’s 2019 novel, The Only Black Girls in Town, about two Black girls who discover a hidden collection of journals.
“It makes me feel good when I read about characters and they have the same skin color as me and they’re not just, like, background characters, like in most books,” he said.
Kharia Pitts, a sixth-grader, is another leader of the book club. She shared with NBC News that she didn’t have a lot of books starring Black people.
“I was thinking of other kids who don’t think that there are books about Black people, and I want to change that, because that’s almost what I thought,” Pitts said.
She continued, “If kids of all other races learn about the truth and what happened to all types of people, then we won’t have to go back and repeat it,” she said. “That way, we’re not stuck in an endless cycle.”