(NEW YORK) — One 9-year-old wants to help stop racism by making school libraries more inclusive.
“One day my mom and aunt asked me how I would want to make a difference in the world and I said to help stop racism,” Emi Kim, from Provo, Utah, told Good Morning America.
To make that a reality, Emi and her family came up with the idea of bringing more diverse books that feature people of color into school libraries, something Emi said she believes will help people understand one another.
“It matters that everyone is represented,” Emi said. “We’re afraid of what we don’t know and I think that’s partly the reason why we treat people badly based on how they look.”
Emi initially set out to buy 15 books for just her school, Westridge Elementary, and set up a lemonade and baked goods stand on July 8 to raise the funds. Her mom, Dorie Kim, told GMA that they raised $762, which allowed them to expand their plan to buy five sets of 15 books for five local schools.
“She was hoping for 15 books for her school,” Kim, 36, said. “It was really cool to see how people are embracing Emi’s little lemonade stand.”
After raising the money, Emi said she put together a presentation for her school’s principal, Kim Hawkins, on why diverse books need to be in libraries.
“At first I was nervous but after I practiced a little I got the hang of it,” Emi said.
The presentation included statistics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Cooperative Children’s Book Center, which found that there are more books with main characters that are white or animals than there are books with protagonists that are Black, Indigenous, or a person of color.
Upon receiving Hawkins’ approval, Emi purchased the books. She selected books that had main characters from Polynesian, Asian, Native American, Latino, and Black cultures, and also made sure that someone behind the book was from and knowledgeable about that culture.
“Emi made sure every book she donated about diverse characters was actually written or illustrated by someone of that race,” Kim said.
Inspired by Emi, the Provo school district took her initiative one step further. According to her family, the district purchased the same 15 books for the rest of the elementary schools in Provo.
“All 13 elementary schools have the books now,” Kim said. “I’m speechless. We thought it was a little lemonade stand and we’d buy a few books. We didn’t expect it to be this far reaching.”
Of the books she picked, Emi said “Eyes that Kiss in the Corners” by Joanna Ho is her favorite. The picture book is about a young Taiwanese girl who takes notice of the fact that her eyes are shaped differently than her friends’.
“I think I relate a lot to it,” Emi said. “I just love the story, the illustrations, and how it shows all the wonders of having these eyes.”
The desire to bring about change also comes from the values Kim tries to teach her children.
“One of the things that both my husband and I want to instill in our kids is to be proud of who they are,” Kim said. “And to be respectful of other people and who they are and their experiences.”
Kim noted that her family lives in a predominantly white area and that she and her family have been exposed to racism on multiple occasions. She detailed one particular instance where she said that she and her family were on line at the grocery store and an older white man cut in front of them.
“I was like, ‘Excuse me sir, you need to go to the back of the line,” Kim said, adding that he initially acted as if he didn’t hear her. She said the man then turned around and said “Mexican” to her.
Emi said she experienced racism at school one day after her teacher said the U.S. entered WWII following the Pearl Harbor attack.
“When I said, ‘I’m Japanese,’ some kid by me started backing away, pointing at me and shouting, ‘You’re Japanese! You’re Japanese!'” she said. “It didn’t make me feel good at all.”
Emi ran a second lemonade stand on Sept. 25, where she says she raised $3,029 that will go toward buying books about kids with disabilities.
“If kids see kids of color or with disabilities in books and learn that they’re good too, that they have feelings and can get sad if they’re made fun of, they might not make fun of them,” she said.
Emi added that she hopes to run another stand in the winter, but instead of lemonade it’ll be themed for the season with items like cocoa, pumpkin spice, apple cider, and candy canes.
“I really just like to help people,” she said. “Being treated based on the way you look is not right. We’re all people and that’s all that really matters.”
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