Editor’s Note: Suze Guillaume is a 2018 Public Space Challenge winner and a Miami Fellows alum (Class X). With a Challenge grant and connections with community leaders made during her Fellows experience, Suze took her small idea – mini book-sharing boxes – and turned it into a big literary outdoor festival, Liberty City Reads Fest.

I had a vision for a pop-library in the park. The Public Space Challenge and my Miami Fellows experience helped make it a reality.

With the Miami Fellows, I visited local daycare centers in Liberty City, the neighborhood where I grew up and in downtown Miami. While at one of the centers, I connected with Terry Rutherford of the Miami Children’s Initiative (MCI). She asked me to stay in touch with her, and I did. That’s one of the lessons I learned during my 15-month Fellows journey – partnerships and building relationships with community leaders are vital to bring ideas to life.

A second lesson I learned: step out of your comfort zone. While going through our Fellows leadership lab led by Florida International University’s Center for Leadership, I decided to apply for The Miami Foundation’s 2018 Public Space Challenge– and won. The idea was simple: bring more local authors and literary work to kids, teens and parents in the community, expose children to books with characters that look like them, and get more people outdoors. The project, Beyond Literacy Pop-up (B-LIT), installed colorful pop-up libraries, painted by local artists, in various parks and filled them with books by hometown authors. The Challenge taught me how to budget effectively for my project, work with the resources that I had access to and connect with people who believed in moving our city forward.

Video: Hear from Suze Guillaume and her experience bringing Liberty City Reads Fest to life.

The mini-libraries were a success, and I thought, “What if we could create one, big community pop-up library?” Which brings me to lesson three: step up for your community. I began giving away free books at local churches and community centers and connecting with more organizations and people like MCI and Terry along the way. Terry also helped me connect with more local day care centers. From there, my team joined with other partners, including the Miami Book Fair, HistoryMiami Museum, Miami Dade College North Campus, the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center, O,Miami Festival and Path to Hip Hop. I started showing up at meetings with educators at The Children’s Trust and met other community leaders there as well.

Flash forward one year later, the project grew into Liberty City Reads Fest. More than 400 kids, teens and parents from the community came out for the inaugural event held in July at the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center. Kids took part in interactive literacy games, science activities, and arts and crafts. They heard from History Miami Museum staff about historical fun facts of our city. And, all kids took home free books. We are now planning Liberty City Reads Fest 2020. We’re looking to include programming throughout the year where day care centers and schools in Liberty City can have access to more literary work that represent children in our community. Our long-term goal is to work closely with Miami-Dade County Public Schools to get more books in the classrooms that represent our Miami and to get local authors speaking at our schools. My team and I are also planning to bring a literary festival to Medellin, Colombia, in Comuna 13, the same place the Miami Fellows visited during our international lab.

I see Liberty City Reads Fest as my way to make a long-term investment in our community. Will you join me?

If you want to join in with Suze and Liberty City Reads Fest, they accept new or gently used, diverse books year-round. Email Suze at: libertycityreadsfest@gmail.com.

Suze Guillaume is a Miami Fellows Class X alum, author and founder of Liberty City Reads Fest.

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