Alabama community rallies around author after school district cancels Black History Month event
“How many teachers want those students to be able to have that opportunity to see themselves reflected in the people that we bring in?”
There's something special about having a book read to you by the actual author. It means a lot to adults, so one can only imagine how children feel when they find out that the person preparing to read them a story is the person who wrote it. It's a small piece of childhood magic that never really goes away.
That's exactly the treat that several classrooms were primed to get when award-winning children's book author Derrick Barnes was scheduled to read to students at three schools in the Hoover City Schools public school district near Birmingham, Alabama. It's an event that was inquired about back in April 2022, nearly a full year in advance to ensure the author would be available for February. But just days before the start of Black History Month, the superintendent of Hoover City Schools abruptly canceled the scheduled readings.
The cancellation came as a surprise to Barnes, his team, as well as the parents and teachers within Hoover City Schools. The superintendent of the school district, Dee Fowler, cited one parent's concerns about the visits and the author's "controversial ideas." Fowler also stated there were contract issues, according to CNN.
No matter the reason, Barnes would not be reading at the schools, which not only affects the children but also leaves the author out thousands of dollars. But the Alabama community decided they were not going to allow this situation to stand and chose to do something about it any way they could. Hundreds of frustrated parents have worked together to raise a portion of the $9,900 Barnes lost by the event being canceled on such short notice, and they didn't stop there.
People in the town are stocking his book in the Free Little Libraries, which are small bookcases placed throughout towns and free for the public to use. Two teachers, Kent Haines and Reed Lochlamy, wrote a letter to the school district and 140 teachers from Hoover City Schools signed on as of February 3. According to WBRC, the teachers are asking for more transparency about the situation and how to avoid it in the future.
The award-winning author writes children's books that feature Black children doing normal daily activities and encourages positive self-image. These are books that Black children can see representation in and other children can see something other than Black people experiencing trauma or some other situation that needs to be overcome. Most of his writings center joy, and it would've been a joy for kids to see that reflected.
“I really try to focus on writing books where Black children are doing ‘slice of life’ things,” Barnes explained to CBS 42 News. “When I first got into the industry, all the books that were written by Black authors that got awards were always about civil rights or slavery. No bedtime stories. No stories about going to school."
“How many teachers want those students to be able to have that opportunity to see themselves reflected in the people that we bring in?” Haines asked WBRC before continuing, “More broadly, I am hoping that this leads our district to more fully enact its stated values regarding the diverse community that we live and teach in.”
The cancellation of authors speaking at elementary schools seems to be the latest trend seemingly stemming from the small faction of outspoken organizations that want to ban books in schools. Reasons for banning particular books span from "inappropriate" to Critical Race Theory, which is a graduate-level course taught to law students.
Throughout the process, it has not been clear what the exact offending material was that was posted to Barnes' social media page that started the cancellation. But the support shown is reason enough for the school district to reconsider hastily deciding things based on one person's dissent.
When asked about the support received by the teachers, Barnes told WBRC, “I look forward to finally coming down there hopefully this upcoming school year and I just want to tell all of them thank you, love them very much and keep up the fight.”