This project sends black history books to people who can’t afford them

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Maja’s education project provided over £ 4,000 worth of books on black history, criminal justice and the non-black alliance, as well as fiction and poetry from black authors

As Black Lives Matter activists took to the streets in unprecedented protests across the United States in June, the #BlackOutTuesday trend briefly saw Instagram feeds swept into a mass of black squares. Originally, the collective action was aimed at “bringing about accountability and change” within the music industry following the murder of George Floyd by police. However, as the viral trend spread, the black squares began to shut down vital conversations online, clogging the channels used to share information and coordinate protests.

In other cases, critics pointed out, the trend has also taken the place of real and meaningful ways to support the movement. “I really don’t like performative activism, so this whole #BlackOutTuesday thing really pissed me off,” says Maja Antoine-Onikoyi, a 20-year-old activist from Watford and founding director of the Maja’s Education Project. “I found out people were using him like a cop to say they were helping because they were posting a black square and an infographic. I really wanted to DO something that would encourage other people to really change.

And that’s where Maja’s education project started. “I wanted everyone to educate themselves, not continue to use black people to do the heavy lifting and just publish it,” Antoine-Onikoyi told Dazed. “But a lot of people pointed out to me that they couldn’t afford the books or the resources to do so, so I thought about sending a few. Then it became what it is today.

Donations started pouring in when she announced the project, and they haven’t stopped since. Currently, over £ 4,000 worth of books on black history, criminal justice, the non-black alliance and more have been distributed to those who might not otherwise have access. .

Why did Antoine-Onikoyi choose books? While she says there are many other ways to learn about black life now – including insightful documentaries or anti-racist graphics shared via social media – she points out that books play a different role. “People briefly browse through the articles and videos online, but they invest in the books, they feel like they’ve learned something and it stays with them longer. ”

“It is so necessary today,” she adds, “because we cannot continue to have fleeting allies and movements that make everything forgotten when it is no longer a trend. “

For Antoine-Onikoyi, some essential examples include that of Akala Indigenous and the posthumous collection of speeches, essays and poems by Audre Lorde: Your silence will not protect you, which she also specifically recommends to non-black allies, saying, “I think white ‘allies’ think that just not being racist is not. You have to be actively anti-racist to be able to see yourself as an ally. If you keep quiet, you are on the side of the oppressor.

As for fiction, Maja’s Education Project lists titles ranging from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Americanah children’s books such as Love your fro, by Toni Morrison’s Beloved to the novel YA by Malorie Blackman zeros and crosses. Such dark literature is important, suggests Antoine-Onikoyi, “because the stories told may be fiction, but they are relatable. These are stories of things that are happening and have already happened that people need to see in their heads in order to understand.

“If you’re shocked at what a black character has experienced in a fictional book, take that sentiment and apply it to your black friend; they probably went through exactly that. Use it and learn from it.

Looking to the future, Antoine-Onikoyi aims to send books to schools and prisons through Maja’s Education Project, and to work with authors to integrate books on black history and the injustice to the program. “How can we raise a generation to understand the struggles of black people if their knowledge, like ours, was arrested at Malcom X and Rosa Parks?” ” she asks. “How can we raise a generation of white allies if white children only see black people portrayed as thugs and vilified in the media? We have to work from the ground up. “

Learn more about Maja’s education project and support fundraising here

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