“I really never saw myself as an entrepreneur; all of my schooling and background has been in education,” says Julius B. Anthony. “But I feel strongly enough about closing this gap that I knew I had to try and figure it out.” Anthony is Founder and President of St. Louis Black Authors of Children’s Literature, a nonprofit dedicated to ensuring early literacy by creating opportunities for all children to have access to Black children’s literature. Little Bit will begin distributing 17 different book titles procured through the organization in the next semester – including “I Dream to Be,” “Be Yourself” and the “ABCs of Love” – with the intention of adding cultural relevancy to our selections.
“We share a common interest in improving reading proficiencies at an early age, and I’m so excited to get our books to thousands more children through Little Bit,” says Anthony. Third grade reading success has long been the educational marker that determines a child’s progress in school and in life, yet in 2017, approximately 70% of all Black third graders in metro St. Louis failed the state mandated reading assessment. “This has to change, and our strategy is to encourage a love of reading by introducing Black children’s literature into their lives – by black authors, with black protagonists – because children are naturally drawn to stories in which they can see themselves.”
The primary vehicle of distribution is the organization’s Believe Project, which creates home-like literacy spaces in schools and community centers, where PreK through 3rd grade students can access more than 1,000 book titles – 80% of which are Black children’s literature. Four sites had been set up in the project’s first two years, until progress came to a halt with the pandemic. Not dismayed, Anthony worked on producing literacy-based children’s episodes, which aired over the summer on the Nine Network’s YouTube channel and were reinforced with books mailed to children’s homes. The episodes included appearances by local Black authors.
A secondary result of the project – the advancement of Black authors – is not unintentional. Himself a children’s book author, Anthony says that only three percent of the market is currently represented by Black authors. “That’s another stat that has to change,” he says. Presently, St. Louis Black Authors of Children’s Literature distributes books from 20 local Black authors. Little Bit is excited to share the works of 14 of these authors through our book fairs and Books & Buddies program.