First UU Church of Wausau donates children’s books to Merrill Little Free Diverse Library
TINA L. SCOTT
Back in November 2020, Julie Trombley, former Director of Religious Education (DRE) at the First Universalist Unitarian Church of Wausau (First UU), had an idea for an Anti-Racism Storytime (ARS). She contacted Joni Hahn and Sally Schmidt at the church, and they wholeheartedly supported the project. Beginning, as it did, in the midst of the year of COVID-19, they opted to start the ARS online, utilizing Zoom. So once a week, starting in November 2020, for 30 minutes, children and their families gathered for an evening storytime around their computers.
“In the year of the pandemic, First UU was not unlike other churches and organizations with the challenge of engaging children and youth in church activities,” Joni Hahn said. “It was anticipated that attendance would be low at this online offering, as children have been fatigued with the need to attend everything online – from school, to sports, to clubs, to church.”
“At First UU, the Anti-Racism Storytime team was thrilled to find 6-8 children attending the weekly ARS events with regularity,” she said. “Three of the attendees and their families have not missed a single evening!”
“The purpose of ARS is to help parents and caregivers explore important topics and to open ongoing dialogue with their kids in ways that are age-appropriate, and to generate rich family discussions,” Hahn said. So each week, the ARS host read and shared a book “written or illustrated by or about black, Indigenous, and people of color that explored complex themes such as Indian boarding schools, Hmong history, The Great Migration, the experiences of Immigrants, and significant contributions to society by people of color.”
Hahn said some examples are the stories of Dr. Patricia Bath, the inventor of the specialized laser used for removing cataracts; Clara Lemlich, a Ukrainian immigrant who led the strike of women garment workers; Katherine Johnson, a prominent mathematician at NASA; and Melba Liston, an accomplished trombonist and musician.
ARS hosts then led children and their families in conversation about the characters and events in the story and reflected on their own experiences, she said.
When Trombley left her DRE position at First UU in March 2021, Hahn and Sally Schmidt agreed to continue ARS through the end of May.
“By the time this year’s Storytime came to a close, participants will have enjoyed 28 stories and a year of rich reflection,” Hahn said.
As a year-end finale, First UU decided that each child participating in Anti-Racism Storytime would receive a book to keep.
After learning about Pastor Pat Schutz at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Merrill and the Little Free Diverse Library (LFDL) they started on the corner by the church, First UU decided to also donate six children’s anti-racism books to their little LFDL sidewalk library.
“Stories, both fiction and nonfiction, are a great way for us learn about hard things and appreciate the diversity of our communities,” said Pastor Pat Schutz. “The books in the LFDL can help families and adults talk about racism, ways white people can be an ally with people of color, and they really illustrate the goodness and beauty of all people.”
“Together, both churches are working at the common goal of getting diverse stories into the homes of central Wisconsin families,” Hahn said. “And hopefully this is the beginning of a collaboration between the two churches to try to support the work that needs to be done surrounding issues of diversity.”
We do indeed live in a small world, one two small for issues of race and diversity to divide us. It turns out that both Pastor Pat and Sally Schmidt of First UU both have homes on Washington Island in northern Door County, so they are “island neighbors.”
“Sally and her family live in Wausau and summer on the Island,” Hahn said. “Sally will be offering a six-week Anti-Racism Storytime for families at Red Barn Park on the Island this summer.”
For families who wish to broaden their children’s horizons and introduce reading about diversity, in addition to borrowing the books at the Our Saviour’s LFDL, Hahn recommends families check out: www.theconsciouskid.org. “The website has a great list of books by and about people of color,” Hahn said.