In her April 2019 TED Talk, America Ferrera tells her listeners “presence creates possibility.” Her words resonated for me when I first heard them and they still do. Written on a post-it note in my office, these words remind me daily that opportunities become present when we include all kinds of people and ideas and experiences in our lives.
It seems to me that these words are important both from the perspective of those who have not been present and those who have.
Blogger and writer Grace Okoliko remembers learning through media what was accepted. She says that she “only had to watch TV commercials, video vixens, and runway models looking only a certain way and I needed no one to tell me what society describes as beautiful.”
Presence creates the possibility of understanding that people who look or sound or are like me are beautiful and talented and creative and worthy of respect. This is so important for those who have not always been valued: people of color, women, immigrants, people who speak English as a second (or third or fourth!) language, folks who struggle with issues of poverty and lack of education, people who are differently abled. For all of these and many, many more — presence creates possibility.
Many of us are privileged enough not to worry about presence or representation.
Every book and every movie and every executive office features many people who look and sound and are like us. Presence must matter to us, too.
If we mostly see people like ourselves depicted in media and represented in government and business and religion, we think that’s OK. We start to believe that’s how it should be. And we can be disrespectful or even violent if someone suggests otherwise.
Here’s the truth: We all need the possibility of presence. We all need books that show all kinds of people doing all kinds of things. We need actors and journalists and athletes and theologians and musicians and politicians and authors and illustrators who don’t look like us. We need to be influenced by folks who are different than us — who think and worship and love differently than we do.
Presence creates possibility.
January 29 is Multicultural Children’s Book Day. The goal is to raise awareness of diverse children’s books and to get these books into classrooms and libraries where kids — all kids — can find them.
The mission of the creators of Multicultural Children’s Book Day is to “raise awareness for children’s books that celebrate diversity by getting more of these books into classrooms and libraries. This non-profit also strives to shine the spotlight on the diverse books and authors that often get overlooked by mainstream publishing and media.”
To learn more, visit their website or follow #ReadYourWorld on social media.