Thurgood Marshall teacher Freddie Brown (middle) receives books from the Diversity Basket.

A collaboration between a Lake Highlands group and Richardson ISD is helping students see themselves represented in their books and school materials.

The Lake Highlands Area Moms Against Racism Facebook group started an initiative to deliver boxes of diverse books, bandages, craft supplies and toys that feature various skin tones to several RISD elementary schools.   

“We knew that schools, teachers and families were more interested and invested in diversity education after the events of this summer,” said Lowry Manders, an admin of the Facebook group.

“Diversity Baskets” were delivered to 12 RISD elementary schools in early November from donations collected monetarily, from a drop off location and through an Amazon wishlist. As more donations are collected, Manders said the goal is to deliver a Diversity Basket to every RISD elementary school.

The group first approached RISD’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion department in June to help facilitate distribution through each school’s equity liaison, said Angie Lee, RISD Director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. 

Lee said the district got behind the idea to help support healthy identity development for students. 

“We talk about kids seeing themselves represented,” she said. “That’s more than just someone standing in front of them who looks like them or in the faces of characters in the stories they’re reading. Representation comes in many forms.”

Manders said members of the Lake Highlands group wanted to help give students “windows and mirrors” through diverse books and materials: a window into the lives and stories of people that may not look like the reader and a mirror for students to see themselves reflected.

“You should be able to find that crayon that matches your skin tone when you’re drawing a picture of yourself,” she said.

Lake Highlands Elementary teacher and equity liaison Maggie Anderson first noted the importance of representation in books when she taught at Thurgood Marshall Elementary. 

“I was reading a lot of holiday-themed Christmas books to my class, and one of my sweet students, Elijah, said ‘Mrs. Anderson, I’ve always wondered, how come none of your picture books have a Santa that looks like my dad?’”

Anderson said she searched five bookstores before finding a picture book that featured a Black Santa Claus and family. 

“Representation really does matter,” she said. “I got that book, and it was the most popular book in my classroom. Kids would just pour over it.”

Anderson said she believes the Diversity Baskets will help more teachers realize the lack of representation in books.

“I think it’s great that they are building awareness in teachers,” she said. “And also, they’re giving the kids the opportunity to see themselves in good literature, and not just in history books about Black History Month and the Civil Rights era.” 

Equity liaisons have been excited to receive the materials, Lee said, especially during a time that has been difficult for educators across the nation.  

“It didn’t feel like one more thing that they had to do,” Lee said. “Right now, our teachers are just overwhelmed with so much that they have to do, but they were really receptive when I started talking to them about taking ownership of it and coordinating that for their campuses.”

Those interested in supporting the Diversity Baskets initiative can donate here. Manders said the group hopes to distribute baskets for every start of the school year.