This blog post is the first of a two-part series to kick-off our 2021 E & I Corner. In Part I, author and illustrator Emmy Kastner describes how Read and Write Kalamazoo (RAWK) reaffirmed their core values, eliminated barriers and biases, and welcomed everyone in their community. Stay tuned for Part II: An Interview with Sonya Barnard-Hollins.
Leaving No Voice Unheard: Rawk's Commitment
Story is life force. Our stories must be told and witnessed. Every one of us needs the time and the space and the support to access our voice. A community can only be as healthy and as just as the spectrum of stories it hears. The challenge of inequity is not solved by one promise, but by a collective commitment to witness one another every day, leaving no voice unheard. This is RAWK’s ongoing commitment.
Emmy Kastner co-founded RAWK with Anne Hensley in 2012. According to their website, their mission is to “celebrate and amplify youth voices through the cultivation of reading and writing skills via joy, creativity, equity, and access.” A nonprofit organization, RAWK is committed to nurturing intellectual and creative confidence in youth throughout Kalamazoo County by providing creative writing workshops, summer camps, in-school programs, after school tutoring, and community partnerships.
Emmy attributes her initial inspiration to the 826Valencia organization started in San Francisco in 2002 that eventually led to an International Alliance of Writing Centers, including one in Ann Arbor/Detroit. After hearing about 826, Emmy recognized the need for such a center in the Kalamazoo area. In conversations with her close friend, Anne, they dreamed up the idea together, and RAWK took off.
After applying for neighborhood grants, they began offering small writing camps for students during the summer. Soon after, Emmy and Anne asked themselves who they wanted to serve and set a goal of figuring out how their resources could be put to better use. Originally more organic in their approach, they became more intentional not solely for the sake of diversity, but to celebrate youth and community. They shifted from a ‘come to us’ to a ‘go to them’ approach and sought out other youth organizations such as Communities in Schools and the Boys and Girls Club and built relationships and partnerships. According to Emmy, it was not about ‘putting up our flag,’ but a sincere effort to work with students, teachers, and librarians (KPL), and that meant going to places where young people gathered. Gradually, RAWK achieved their goals to obtain their own physical space, offer free programming, and support professional staff. RAWK established their writing center located south of Kalamazoo’s historic downtown. They also sponsor Readers' Room, a program on-site within schools.
During her time at RAWK, Emmy set-up book drops and shelves with thoughtfully curated books for kids to pick up. Believing these efforts last a lifetime—she nurtured young writers with this thought: “You are already a writer and that’s so powerful.” Emmy believes in the power of being heard and connects this to writing. All of their young participants are RAWK rock stars and are able to access the offerings and creative projects.
Writing is agency and we can empower young people to tell their own stories.
You can learn more about the International Alliance of Writing Centers at: https://www.youthwriting.org/
Writing Prompt:We invite you to share your thoughts on how we can better reframe SCBWI-MI
intentions with an access mindset.
One of our first guest posts on the E&I Corner was from Rachel Werner. She recently reached out to share information about a workshop she's teaching this winter at The Loft Literary Center: Reading & Writing Diverse KidLit & YA.
In January 2021, Sleeping Bear Press is launching their first Own Voices, Own Stories Award for BIPOC and LGBTQ writers. This award elevates their mission to recognize and amplify new and diverse voices in children’s literature.