The story behind Bruce Goodman’s new Read in Color Little Free Library began in a Minneapolis skyway in February 2021 when he was mugged by a stranger and suffered a shoulder injury. A brighter chapter will unfold from 2-4 p.m. Sunday, September 11, when the new library will be dedicated in a ceremony at Jewish Family Service, 1633 W. Seventh St.

Read in Color
Bruce Goodman, Jodi Saltzman and Anne Myers of the Jewish Family Service stock the new Read in Color Little Free Library that will be posted outside of the agency at 1633 W. Seventh St. following its dedication on September 11. Photo by Brad Stauffer

A board member for Jewish Family Service, Goodman discussed the mugging last year with JFS CEO Ruth Hampton Olkon. She suggested that he talk with JFS community support therapist Tara Burns.

“The Community Support Program at JFS offers three free 20-minute sessions,” Goodman said. “In them, Tara asked what empathy meant to me. The question helped me reframe the incident and move forward. I asked myself who I wanted to be as a person.”

When Goodman related the story of his mugging to others, “I realized they were focusing on the color of my assailant,” he said. “That isn’t the story I wanted to tell. I went back to Ruth and JFS community engagement manager Jodi Saltzman. I told them JFS had helped me heal emotionally, now I wanted to make a financial donation to address racial and social injustice. They suggested a Read in Color program.”

Read in Color is a program of the Saint Paul-based Little Free Library organization, which supports book sharing through small library boxes across the city. Read in Color provides books that offer perspectives on racism and social justice and celebrate marginalized voices.

The Read in Color Little Free Library is part of JFS’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiative. Goodman, who grew up in Highland Park and graduated from Saint Paul Academy in 1969, now lives in Minnetonka. “But I’ve always considered Saint Paul my home,” he said. “I joined the JFS board to reconnect to my Saint Paul roots and give back to the community I was raised in.”

Goodman said his deeper understanding of empathy has made him a more compassionate leader and motivated him to fund the Read in Color Little Free Library. “Through Diversity, Equity and Inclusion training, I realized that I’ve been culturally insensitive and need to own my past mistakes,” he said. “I realized I’m a privileged white male and treated better than many African Americans and indigenous people. I understand why complacency can feel like complicity to marginalized groups who have experienced past aggressions.”

 

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Read in Color is a program of the Saint Paul-based Little Free Library organization, which supports book sharing through small library boxes across the city. Read in Color provides books that offer perspectives on racism and social justice and celebrate marginalized voices.

Characters who reflect the community

The new Goodman library reflects the mission of JFS, according to its community program coordinator Anne Myers. “We want our programs to reflect our community and our clients,” she said. “So far this year, 76 percent of our clients identified as other than Jewish and nearly 50 percent identified as people of color. We hope this library will allow members of our community to see themselves reflected in books and learn about others.”

Myers discussed the aims of Read in Color with a Black staff member at another West End agency. “The staff member said, ‘I wish this had been around when I was a child,’ Myers said. “I told her I felt the same way about never seeing Jewish characters in the books that I read as a child. According to Read in Color, only 25 percent of children’s books feature characters who are not white.”

For the Goodman library, Myers said, “we chose a design from the Little Free Library site, but we modified it by adding picture frames on the sides of the box. This will allow us to feature art and photos created by and for marginalized communities. Mary and Mike Link of Highland Park volunteered to build the box for us. Wendy Shragg donated a print from her Playground Kids series to be featured on it.”

‘Equal opportunities for all people’

The box will be posted outside of JFS. Staff there chose books from a list recommended by Read in Color. The collection for early, young adult and adult readers was drawn from nine subject areas—African American, Asian American and Pacific Islander, Indigenous, Jewish, Latino, Muslim, antiracism, LGBT and disability and neurodiversity.

During the dedication of the new library, representatives of the More Than a Single Story organization will read from the book We Are Meant to Rise. More Than a Single Story was founded in 2015 by Saint Paul author Carolyn Holbrook to encourage conversations with writers of color about issues of importance to them. Holbrook, who will be on hand for the September 11 dedication, will be joined by Hmong American artist Kevin Yang and Tess Montgomery, a former communications coordinator for More Than a Single Story.

“My hope is that this program and the sharing of my story and personal stories by BIPOC authors will inspire others to speak up if they feel individuals and groups aren’t being treated fairly,” Goodman said. “We must work together to create equal opportunities for all people.”

— Anne Murphy

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