Students and visitors went to Shoemaker Square Wednesday, Feb. 22 and encountered The Human Library.
Campus advisor for Advocacy for Civility Change Equality Safety and Social Justice (ACCESS) Marie Adkinson helped students select “books” to “read.”
Some of the books on the “shelves” included “Female to Self-Made Man,” “Political Awakening: My Vietnam Protests,” “Gay Pastor: Activism is Ministry,” “From Gang Banging to Graduating,” and 15 other “books” were there as well.
Each “book” was represented by a person with a story to tell and stereotypes to dismantle. In this way,
they constituted a Human Library.
The Human Library began in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2000, according to humanlibrary.org. The founders, Dany Abergel, Asma Mouna, Christoffer Erichsen and Ronni Abergel originally started a “non-government youth movement” called “Stop the Violence” after their friend was attacked during a night out.
According to the movement’s website, the organization was asked to create an event for the Roskilde Festival in Copenhagen, and they introduced the Human Library. The original event lasted four days, eight hours each day and featured more than 50 “books.” Since 2000, the Human Library has spread all over the globe.
In order to arrange the Human Library on USM’s campus and use the organization’s official logo, Adkinson had to apply for a special license. When Adkinson was accepted, she reached out to several friends with unique stories and asked the ACCESS members to refer people to her for the event. This Human Library was among the first in the state of Mississippi, comprising of eight non-students and 11 students.
ACCESS member Jesslyn Williams referred her younger sister, Jayla Williams, who was born with hemihypertrophy – a genetic disorder in which half of her body grew larger than the other half. The disorder affected not only her face and body, but also her brain, which caused her to have learning disorders.
Jayla continues to face constant bullying in school, but has a large family support system in Birmingham. Jayla’s mother Deborah contributed to the “reading” process, because communication does not always come easily for Jayla.
“She recently had surgery on her face, to reduce the asymmetrical appearance,” Deborah Williams said. “She thought it would change her life, but the kids at school still harass her.”
Jayla is classified as a junior in high school and takes part in an Individualized Education Program. She dreams of becoming a physical therapist or opening a cupcake business.
Danni Lee, a member of ACCESS, joined the Library to talk about her father and his struggle with a severe drug and alcohol addiction. She said she remembers adoring him as a little girl but grew suspicious when his disappearances were sporadic and strange. He called to apologize to her for his failings as a father after several months of separation.
Danni said she rejected his apology, only to find out the next day that he overdosed shortly after his phone call to her. Her father’s death and the lack of any support from her family caused Lee to turn to alcohol, drugs and other dangerous habits in high school. After a long process with herself “to determine who she was and who she wanted to be,” she shelved the coping mechanisms.
Now a junior at USM, Lee studies athletic training and hopes to work with collegiate athletes. She said she likes to counsel on the dangers of addiction, an activity she hopes will help not only her friends, but her future athletes.
“Some people are offended, like they don’t want to talk about that,” Lee said. “Others are like, ‘You’re the light I’ve been waiting for.’That’s what I do, inspire and electrify.”
When asked if she fears the genetic disposition of the alcoholism disease, Lee became more serious.
“I have to be careful,” she said. “I always ask others if they’re willing to throw away everything for one night out.”
These stories represent only a sample of the “literature” available at the Human Library. Adkinson hopes to hold the event once a year, with even more books.
“Talking to any or all of these people will ground you in an immense way,” Adkinson said. Other Human Library events can be found on humanlibrary.org.