There is power in the pages of books. They can put readers on the path to perspective, knowledge and empathy.
Now, a Columbia activist is working on putting hundreds of books from Black authors into the hands of local residents.
Columbia’s Jared Johnson is partnering with the South Carolina Education Association on the Book Blackout. Through the initiative, Johnson is collecting more than 400 books from Black authors, all of which will be donated to the Little Free Libraries in various capital city neighborhoods.
Little Free Libraries are mailbox-like stations in neighborhoods where residents can pick up books to read and also leave books for others.
“What we are doing, essentially, is a book drive, but instead of asking for random book donations, the Book Blackout is more focused,” Johnson said. “We are asking for book donations by Black authors.”
Johnson said the specific list of books that are part of the Blackout was culled after input from residents of a number of Columbia neighborhoods, including Rosewood, Hollywood-Rose Hill, Shandon and Earlewood.
For a look at the books still needed for the drive, visit thescea.org/donatebooks, which will direct you to an Amazon wish list page for the effort. Just a few of the titles that are a part of the Book Blackout include “The New Jim Crow” by Michael Alexander, “Five-Carat Soul” by James McBride, and “Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good” by Adrienne Maree Brown .
Johnson is aiming to collect more than 400 total books for the effort and said more than 300 have already been received.
There will be a Book Blackout celebration from 5 to 7 pm Thursday, April 14, at 421 Zimalcrest Drive. Attendees can bring a book to donate to the effort, and there will be discussion, dinner catered by Lizard’s Thicket and a chance to meet local authors. Those interested can RSVP at thescea.org/blackout.
This is not the first time Johnson has tackled a public-facing project infused with the spirit of activism. He previously spearheaded a project to get a Black Lives Matter mural completed in Columbia. That project started with the idea of painting a Black Lives Matter message on a public street in the capital city, but when those talks stalled, he tweaked the effort. In the end, the mural, which was created by artist Robb Kershaw and muralist Ariel Flowers, was painted on the side of Sweet Temptations Bakery on north Main Street just north of Elmwood Avenue.
Johnson said the Book Blackout is simply the next step in using arts and culture to keep the message of racial justice in the forefront of residents’ minds.
“I wanted to stay active,” Johnson said of the book initiative. “It’s the same motivations as the mural project. I’m not a person that likes to take racial justice or racial equity haphazardly or make it seasonal. Since (the widespread protests for racial justice in) the summer of 2020, if you flash forward now, the conversations are still being had, but people aren’t as hyped and it’s not as popular, quote-unquote. But that’s not the case for me.
“It’s my life, and I just want to keep things going, but do things a little different.”
Johnson said books would likely start being distributed to Little Free Libraries in June.