When entering the Sonja Haynes Stone Center, individuals are immediately met with a wall of windows. On an ordinary day, these windows offer a clear view of the center’s outside patio — but not last week.
Instead, the windows were lined with laminated pieces of paper. Each panel had two colorful sheets, both taped at eye level. They even stretched beyond the windows, wrapping around the brick walls of the center.
But these were not ordinary pieces of paper. They were pages from a children’s book titled “An American Story,” which tells the history of slavery in America.
This display was part of the Stone Center’s Community Book Walk – one of four events being hosted by the Alliance.
The Alliance is made up of the Asian American Center (AAC), the Stone Center, American Indian Center (AIC) and Carolina Latinx Center (CLC).
Part of the Alliance’s mission is to promote dialogue and educate the community on issues involving race and ethnicity. AAC Associate Director Krupal Amin said this is also one of the goals of the Community Book Walks – to highlight the differences in experiences and backgrounds at the University.
“This is sort of one small way to say you are welcome, this is a space for you, too. This is a place where you can see the little you belonging,” she said.
Jesus Enriquez, a student involved with planning the CLC’s book walk, said it is an opportunity to foster community in and outside of the centers.
“Firstly, it connects people that identify similarly to the books because each book had some meaning, had some personal connection to the center,” he said.
Enriquez said the book walk hits “close to heart” for attendees that identify similarly with characters in the books. And for people from different backgrounds, the book walks aid in their understanding of the community and diversifies their perspective.
The director of the CLC, Josmell Perez, took his children to the Stone Center for the opening day of its Community Book Walk. One of his daughters, Lucila Perez, said she was happy that they went to the display because it provided an opportunity for her to learn more about different histories.
“I like books because with them, they tell a story,” she said. “Most books have a story of our history, and it’s very interesting learning about it and how we can have a better future.”
Amin said this is exactly what the book walks are for – to expand access to different age groups in the community.
However, the display isn’t just for children. Amin said the book walks are for all ages and can also offer a unique experience for students.
In fact, she said the event was designed with them in mind.
“And students who might not traditionally feel like this is necessarily a space that their journey is leading to might change their minds. Seeing a little version of themselves in a storybook might help them recognize that maybe this is where the big version of themselves can have a piece of their journey,” she said.
Grant Alexander, a sophomore at UNC who works at the Stone Center, also attended the book walk opening. They said "An American Story" is a continuation of recent Stone Center topics and series.
Alexander said they think the aesthetics of children’s books specifically speak to students without the typical jargon found in academic texts.
“The language is potent too, but the aesthetics are mostly what it’s speaking through. I think that can evoke more feeling rather than logic which is what should be tied to learning about slavery and Black people’s history in America. It helps evoke emotion and accessibility," they said.
However, they also said that while it is important to learn about these experiences, they think it is important to highlight Black joy.
“I think during this time, it is important for Black people and all people to engage with Black trauma, Black tragedy, Black resistance, as that is the theme of this Black history month this year,” they said. “But make sure to also make room for healing and reckoning and Black joy. You can find that within the pages of this book as I saw a little bit, but sometimes you can get lost in the heavier things. So, make sure to embrace both of them.”
Amin said the hope is that the book walks can engage in these serious conversations under the less heavy context of a children’s book.
“The stories enable you to walk into those experiences much more easily and I think in a much more compassionate, open way,” Amin said.
She recommends that everyone come out to experience the displays for themselves, to see what connection they’ll have with the books.
Each of the Community Book Walks are a week long and are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The next book walk begins Thursday, March 2 at the American Indian Center, where the children’s book “We are Water Protectors” will be on display. More information about this and other book walks can be found on the Alliance's website.
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