Guest blogger and book drive organizer, Lynita Mitchell-Blackwell shares a powerful story of how her community came together to start multiple libraries for students in Kenya.

We exist to honor our connection to others. Leading Through Living Community does this by helping people’s light shine bright on that path to connection. One of the ways we do this is through book and magazine publishing. So when we searched Instagram for a literacy organization that aligned with our philosophy, the African Library Project popped up immediately.  

I reviewed the ALP website and knew that this was a match made in heaven! As publishers, we love reading and embrace the power of literacy to change the world. ALP is an organization dedicated to spreading global literacy by establishing libraries. When I shared the drive criteria with the LTLC team, everyone was excited and ready to work.

We started by creating a few short videos filled with incentives to get books in: books for ads in our magazine BOLD Favor!  Our first drive awarded ads to those who donated a minimum number of books.  People responded in droves!  So much so that our first library, which was for Kenya, was done within a couple of WEEKS…and we had about 200 over, so we decided to start another library drive! 

We partnered with a local church and the town’s library, and with the backing of its mayor, collected over 500 books.  Each person who participated were awarded the Martin Luther King, Jr. “Drum Major for Justice” Community Service Award through the President’s Council on Service & Civic Participation, created by former US President George H.W. Bush.

We set up a GoFundMe account to raise the money, and people gave – we raised the money within 10 days!  So December 2016 we collected over 2,000 books and raised over $1,100 within a couple of weeks thanks to our awesome readers and community members.  When it was time to pack all the boxes, we made it a bit of a party.  Everyone gathered at my house, and some brought their children.  The kids drew pictures and made signs to include in the boxes (between running in and out of the house playing!), while the adults packed the boxes while watching Netflix and talking.  The next day, we mailed off the boxes off to the ALP warehouse in NOLA. 

Everyone was so excited by the wonderful time we’d had, we decided to do it all again three months later.  March 2017, we ran the same promotions to establish a library in Swaziland, this time in conjunction with LTLC’s fourth-anniversary celebration activities.  One of our writers, Ms. Toyin Fadina who is also an educator, collected books at her school.  Of Nigerian heritage, Toyin was really excited to lead the charge to establish another library on the African Continent.  The amazing students at her school brought in over 600 books!  Our readers and advertisers pitched in to collect the rest of the books and fund the drive, and once again, we got the books and money in within a few weeks!  We again had a packing party, this time binge-watching “Queen Sugar” on OWN. 

Toyin became our Global Outreach Liaison. She established partnerships with new schools, and our visits to pick up the books happened to coincide with the release of Black Panther, so we wove commentary about the movie into our presentation to make it a bit more lively. We collected over 2,000 books again, so we established libraries in Ghana and Botswana in Spring 2018.  And Toyin collected books over the summer, so we have two libraries to ship in the Fall.

We really love working with ALP.  It has allowed our team to work together on a project they believe in and allows us to work within the community on a unifying issue – literacy.  We have established new relationships with people who would probably never have met, and gifted books to another generation of beautiful children half a world away. 

We are honored to be connected.

Lynita Mitchell-Blackwell