By Melissa Russell
What was your favorite book as a child? Did it inspire you? Encourage you? Make you laugh?
Children’s literature can help young people better understand themselves, their culture and the world around them. However, children in diverse populations don’t always have the chance to see themselves reflected in the stories they read in school.
As students in Cathryn Edelstein’s nonprofit fundraising campaigns class will tell you, “Everyone deserves the opportunity to be part of a story.”
Edelstein, Senior Executive in Residence in the Communication Studies Department, recalled a conversation with a fifth-grade teacher who told her his classroom was filled with BIPOC (Black, indigenous, people of color) children, but his shelves were filled with books and stories that did not represent them.
“Back in 2019, I was thinking of a way the students in my nonprofit fundraising course could learn to run a digital campaign like an actual nonprofit,” Edelstein said. “I asked if he would be interested in being my partner and he answered enthusiastically, ‘yes.”
This conversation led to the first On the Same Page Boston book collection project, with books for diverse readers delivered daily to that teacher’s school. The next year, which coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, the campaign led to hundreds of books being delivered to Boston children who were learning from home.
To date, more than 6,000 diverse and inclusive books made it to the hands of Boston students thanks to the On the Same Page Boston campaign. The students running the campaign get hands-on experience running a digital campaign that urges donors to take action, Edelstein said.
Emerson President Dr. Jay Bernhart called the campaign a representation of the core values of Emerson College.
“Boston is more than just a place where our campus sits,” he said. “We’re really ingrained in the community and the city. It is our home, it is our community. We live here, we work here, we play here and it matters to us how are city does in the world.”
The 2023 campaign kicked off with a launch on Oct. 17, an event made all the more special because for the first time, it was attended by Superintendent of Boston Public Schools Mary Skipper, and Cory McCarthy, deputy chief of student services for Boston Public Schools.
This year’s campaign benefits students at the Dr. William W. Henderson Inclusion School in Dorchester, where teachers use methods of inclusive teaching, and classes contain students with disabilities learning in general education programs.
Skipper praised the Emerson community for the book campaign, particularly in the post-pandemic period.
“It is helping us with a critical part of our mission, as we take on the work of bringing literacy back,” she said. “Teaching kids to love to read, to pick that book up and most importantly, to pick up literature that will be affirming for them – I can’t say enough about that.”
McCarthy added, “Currently, the world as we know it is building more walls than doors and now we’re seeing, through a thousand books, the route to be successful.”
Edelstein’s students created a launch video, posters and flyers in four languages with QR codes to enable as many people as possible to participate in the campaign. The wish list is available on Amazon, and books will be sent directly to the school. Those interested can show support by spreading the word by following on social media, liking and sharing content.
“It’s so wonderful to have everyone acknowledge the program and the hard work the students have done,” Edelstein said.
McCarthy summed up the power of literature for the young reader: “When students embrace the power of a book, it doesn’t matter that we are quasi-forcing them to read right now. It matters when they remember their favorite book from when they were 7 years old.”