By Ashley Benkarski

Representation matters.

Nashville native knows — as a Black woman she’s felt the pain of being unseen, and of not seeing people that look like you in movies and books.

To do something about that she launched the Black Book Project, a community-focused program accepting and distributing donated books for local kids that center around characters who share their culture.

Meredith McKinney

Her mission is to make sure that African American children are represented in the literature they’re reading so they’ll want to read more. “I want more intentionality for our Brown and Black children,” she remarked. “I’m a Black woman with natural hair; that book is going to grab my attention because it looks like me,” McKinney added as an example.

Her goal was to collect 500 books by the end of March, but The Black Book Project has collected 1,000 books to date, she said. She started out with donations from friends and family, getting 150 books from them in the span of about three weeks. She then took the idea to social media where she was able to get the bulk of her support there with authors donating their books, she added.

A 10-year-old, Nadia Grace, heard about McKinney’s project and pitched in to help. 

“I had a mother of a 10-year-old email me and told me that her daughter wanted to partner with me and help collect books, I spoke with her daughter, and she said she wanted to help because she understands some children don’t own books that look like them. She went on to say representation does matter to me,” McKinney said. “Look at Barack Obama, Kamala Harris, and Dr. Adrienne Battle, we could hold those positions one day; representation matters.”

“The response was way over the expectation. It confirms I was doing the right thing with this project,” McKinney said.

She’s passionate about literacy and volunteers and sits on the board of directors of Book ‘Em, an organization that seeks “to create a more literate Nashville and ignite children’s passion for reading through book ownership and enthusiastic volunteers,” its website said. A self-described advocate of HBCUs, she got her undergraduate degree at Oakwood and her graduate degree at Alabama A&M University.

McKinney is also a Community Achieves Program Specialist, working with site coordinators for priority schools in the Metro Nashville Public School system. Community Achieves provides wrap-around services to remove barriers to learning for students by working with community partners and volunteers, she said.

“I noticed that there was a lack of representation of African American literature, and African American students were the highest demographic served,” she said of Book ‘Em recipients.

She’s collecting books to provide to nonprofits so that all children have access to them.

The Black Book Project is collecting new and gently used books. For more information, visit  bookem-kids.org/theblackbookproject/. Inquiries can be sent to meredithmichelle.mckinney@gmail.com and donated books can be sent to Book ‘Em, Attention: Meredith McKinney, 161 Rains Avenue, Nashville, TN., 37203.