September 27, 2018
Beginning this month, Voqal will be featuring a monthly blog series by Voqal’s Director of Grantmaking, Brenda Sears, focused on topics that are important to Voqal’s grantmaking team.
When Katy ISD schools removed The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas from their bookshelves, Nyshira Lundy, a 15-year-old freshman, started a petition and collected nearly 4,000 signatures to get the book back on school shelves. The powerfully authentic, tragically timely, multi-award-winning book about systemic oppression was originally removed without the superintendent or school board reading it. It was pulled when a parent complained after reading a few pages and felt uncomfortable. With Lundy’s leadership, the book was returned to the school bookshelves.
Each year, about 350 books are challenged and many of those books end up being banned from library bookshelves and school curriculum. Sometimes the bans are blatant, such as the case when the Texas Board of Education voted to remove Hillary Clinton and Helen Keller from the school curriculum. Other times the bans are subtle, such as when the Orange City Public Library Board of Trustees decided to segregate materials containing LGBTQ themes and halt any new acquisitions.
Like The Hate U Give, the books that are challenged and banned are mostly books either written by or about people of color. Books by or about people who are part of the LGBTQ community and people who are differently-abled also receive multiple calls to be banned from libraries and schools. The absence of these books from the bookshelves sends a message to children and adults who are part of those communities that their lives and stories don’t matter. And it sends a message to children and adults who do not identify with those communities that those other people are abnormal deviants.
This week is Banned Books Week, a week that highlights past and current efforts to ban or challenge books. The grantmaking team makes a habit of reading banned and challenged books. It supports the freedom to seek and express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular. It believes everyone deserves to see themselves in literature.
This year, Voqal’s grantmaking team is asking you to join them in this act of rebellion by reading a banned book. You can find a list on the American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom website. You’ve probably already read a few and would be surprised to learn they have been banned in some places.
In addition to reading banned books, In FY19, Voqal made 10 grants totaling $535,000 to organizations working to protect net neutrality. In the same way that banned books limit our access to information, so could the repeal of net neutrality. Here, we spotlight three organizations working to ensure the internet is a relatively level playing field.
- The Center for Media Justice was launched in 2008 to increases media representation, counter damaging stereotypes and win better coverage for all communities. Since the beginning, The Center for Media Justice has been winning fights for open internet protections, digital inclusion, wireless and phone equity, community radio, public media and more. Their goals include amplifying the voices of historically marginalized communities in public and policy debate, building racial justice leadership and ensuring a democratic and participatory public process in defense of net neutrality.
- Since 1999, New America has worked to increase universal access to digital technology, economic opportunity, high-quality education and equal representation in politics. The technology program, the Open Technology Institute (OTI), has successfully advocated for many policy and regulatory reforms to support open source, low-cost, community wireless networks, particularly in underserved areas. OTI will continue to work with groups across the political spectrum to reinstate net neutrality protections and fight for consumers.
- Presente Action Fund seeks to advance Latinx power and create winning campaigns that amplify Latinx political voices, shift culture, and foster freedom, equity and justice. Using both online and grassroots methods, Presente has provided ways for members to take action on the issues they care about. Significant victories include being a leading force in preventing the homes of thousands of families from entering foreclosure and fighting against the policy that allows certain employees to be paid subminimum wage.
Like Nyshira Lundy, they are strong leaders in the social justice field. We are fortunate to have them on our side.