Monday Close-Up: Westridge fourth grader donates books to promote racial understanding
Can books and a lemonade stand change the world?
Westridge fourth-grader Emi Kim thinks they can — and she’s proving it.
Her effort began with two desires: To make a difference and to run a lemonade stand.
“My mom and my aunt were talking and they asked me what I thought was a problem currently in the world,” Kim said during an interview at the end of August. “I said racism.”
Kim — who has Japanese, Chinese, Hawaiian and Korean heritage — had heard of a lot of racial incidents but she has also seen and experienced racism herself. Including once when her mother was at a grocery store and another when a classmate in school responded negatively to her heritage.
“They asked me how I thought I could change that,” Kim said. “I said, I don’t know. They suggested getting books from the school and talked about how to raise money. I suggested a lemonade stand because I’ve wanted to do that since I was like 3-years-old.”
She had also noticed that most of the books she read didn’t represent her ethnic background.
“Which race do you think has the largest percentage of characters in children’s books?” Kim asked in a presentation about her efforts. “The most is white characters, followed by non-human characters like animals, cars and potatoes. Even all of the books with characters who are people of color combined make less than half than those of animals and other things. I wanted more children of color to see characters in books who look like them. We also wanted them to see and learn about people who don’t look like they do.”
She set a goal to use her lemonade stand to raise $150 to purchase 10 books she could donate to the school that would showcase minority characters.
“We advertised it on social media the day before we opened and when people heard about it, they wanted to help,” Kim said.
The response to her efforts was electrifying.
“Even if people didn’t buy anything, they would donate,” Kim said. “I had to raise my goal to $250. A lot of family and friends were very helpful.”
As of the end of August, Kim had raised $762, which was enough to purchase 15 books to donate to five different schools.
The next step was to find the right books.
“I looked up prices, ‘read alouds’ and details,” Kim said. “We also made sure that the author or illustrator was the same race or culture as the book. I wanted to choose books that most brought out the cultures.”
She eventually selected 15 books and started donating them to elementary schools. She first donated to her school, Westridge Elementary, but she also donated to other schools throughout the Wasatch Front.
“I want people who read these book to realize that we don’t have to make fun of people for being different,” Kim said. “People are afraid of what they don’t know so if they know more about people who don’t look like them, they will know how they feel if you treat them badly. The books tell something about their culture, like their history and even help them learn a little bit of the language.”
Her mother, Dorie Kim, said it was amazing to watch Emi work hard for a cause she felt so strongly about.
“Unfortunately, she had to see that incident with a man at a grocery store that was racist,” Dorie Kim said. “She was 7-years-old, so she was aware enough to know what happened. We have had discussions at home that just because someone looks different it doesn’t mean you should think differently about them because we don’t want to be part of the problem.”
Instead, Emi Kim focused on being part of the solution, Dorie said.
“Emi wants to change the world one lemonade stand at a time,” Dorie Kim said. “We were blown away with how things went, every day. I can’t believe how much her little project has been embraced by the community, by the school district, by neighbors, by friends, by social media. It’s been really encouraging for me as a parent to see that there are a lot of people who support learning about different experiences.”
The Provo City School District learned about Emi Kim’s efforts and found them to be inspiring.
“It was brought to my attention and when I learned what she did, I was like, I have to meet this girl,” said Christine Durst, Provo City School District’s media specialist. “I was so inspired by her. She not only wanted to do a lemonade stand, but she did some research on her own. She researched about information about representation in different cultures in children’s books. I felt like that was awesome.”
Durst said the Provo City School District chose to have the 15 books Emi Kim selected added to all 13 elementary school libraries in the district.
“I rewrote the lesson plans for the librarians and in November we’re going to be talking about Emi’s books,” Durst said. “I’ve created a PowerPoint and I’m going to be using some of Emi’s slides from her PowerPoint that will be shown in every school in our district. We’re going to talk about why she did this and how it benefits all of us.”
Emi Kim’s work coincided with a district-wide effort to find books that all the students could see themselves in, according to Durst.
“We had already identified Native American, Asian and Polynesian as three communities in our school district that we have a lot of students that are those cultures and races,” Durst said. We had already been looking and vetting a lot of books. I just love the fact that picture books are a very easy way of presenting these different cultures. It’s a great foundation to start from.”
Durst hopes these efforts bridge the gaps the sometimes open up between students of different heritages.
“I think it creates empathy for each other,” Durst said. “It also creates a sense of belonging. If you are reading a book and you can identify with the character in that book, that book becomes so much more meaningful to you. We realize we are more alike than we are different.”
Emi Kim grinned as she heard Dunst talk about the district’s plans and how her project continues to expand.
She said she has realized just how much power every individual has — even if she is a fourth-grader.
“I learned if we work together as a community, we can make anything big happen,” Emi Kim said. “I also learned no matter your age, you can make a difference. I hope I can do more things like this to help equality and happiness for everyone.”