ASHLAND– In the summer of 2020, a group of passionate Ashland residents united over a shared desire: to seek long-term, sustainable ways of advocating for a more welcoming and diverse community. ColorfulAshland emerged.
The group’s mission involves addressing how race impacts many areas of life in Ashland County, including education, religion, criminal justice, health, mental health, housing, employment and business. By working in different areas, little by little, it hopes to create positive, lasting change.
Jennifer Haglund, a founding member of the group, helped to launch one of their current projects, a book drive raising funds for the Ashland Public Library. She talked about the value of seeing oneself in a story and why ColorfulAshland wants to provide more of those opportunities locally.
“I've taught literature and I’ve taught reading. I've taught people from all over the world,” Haglund said. “There's such a beautiful thing that happens when people connect with a book. So, the more books that you can give to people of all ages, we're going to be better off.”
Haglund notes the library has done a great job offering a diverse selection already, but there are always benefits to further diversifying libraries with more titles written by or about people of color.
Donated funds will go toward purchasing literature for children, young adults and adults. Children’s books illustrate the importance of representation in stories well, since many people connect with books as children and embrace those memories for a lifetime.
“I would say that what we're going to get is children going to the library … children of color looking at books like, ‘Hey, I can be that kid,’ or, ‘I see myself in that,’ and that makes the kid feel more at home—not just in their immediate environment, but in their own skin,” Haglund said. “It also helps children who are white to see that not all books are about them. They can see all these different characters as possible friends.”
Since mid-December, several people have stopped in with donations for the book drive. Lindsay Brandon-Smith, the library’s community engagement manager, notes some former residents have even mailed in donations after hearing about the cause.
“When [Haglund] contacted us, we were just thrilled to receive whatever was coming in,” Brandon-Smith said. “We're just excited to be able to add to our already diverse collection. Any time anyone wants to donate, it's a good thing. So, this is great, and we're really thankful to be supported by the community in this way and to help give back.”
Projects like this one offer a tangible way for Ashland residents to contribute to complex challenges facing the community and advocate for a more diverse and welcoming future. ColorfulAshland plans to continue working in different areas of life, with projects big and small, to ensure the community they reside in is the best it can be–for every resident.
“We hear stories from different people that have said, ‘Hey, I actually haven't received fair treatment,’ or ‘I think things could be better,’ and so we're just trying to take that seriously,” Haglund said.
Donations for the book drive can be dropped off or mailed to the Ashland Public Library at 224 Claremont Ave. Checks should be made out to “Ashland Public Library” with “ColorfulAshland Books” written on the memo line. The deadline for receipt of checks is January 31.
“When it comes to the issue of representation, I think it can be really politicized, and people get wrapped up in that. But the important thing is to remember: what are some books that you identified with? Or think of those times where you wished you could find yourself in a book and didn't,” Haglund said.
“If you really connected with a book and you think that that's a wonderful thing, then why not give that opportunity to somebody, give them more chances to find themselves?”