Mondo Davison aka "The Black Tech Guy" has a vision and his vision sprouts from the realities of his childhood. In a recent article, he talks about the fact that he didn't read a full book until the age of 20. It wasn't because he couldn't read or didn't have access to books, but rather it was due to his lack of interest.
"The books that were available in my classroom were LAME and completely unrelated to me," Davison explains. "I’m talking white leading characters, white supporting characters, white settings, white leaning plots, white language, etc. I saw zero value in the literary options."
It wasn't until he was in college at FAMU that he finally read a book cover to cover.
After becoming an educator in St. Paul Public Schools, he realized that not much has changed when it came to book resources. He notes that traditional short stories and books were still just as bland and disconnected to the minority experience as he remembered from his childhood.
This was a major reason he came up with Shortiez.
Shortiez is a digital library of culturally relevant short stories. The goal of Shortiez is to build the most robust digital platform of culturally relevant short stories.
"We want kids of color to see themselves reflected in the stories they read from day one. We want young scholars to be empowered by characters that look like them. We want storylines to be relevant. We want the language to be relatable. We want kids to enjoy reading, instead of impersonating it," Davison writes.
I had the chance to talk to Davison a little bit more about Shortiez, his background, and his hopes for the future of this necessary project.
What was the demographic of your schools, and do you think that affected your lack of interest even more?
The schools I attended K-12 were reasonably diverse considering I grew up in Minnesota. It was a mix of white, black, and Asian.
I don't think it affected my lack of interest as a kid because 'I didn't know, what I didn't know' I just assumed the issue was unique to me and I didn't like to read.
Do you think children of color are represented enough in curriculum and positive images?
No the out of the box curriculum didn't showcase kids of color enough. I was grateful to work in a building (shoutout to Obama Elementary Teachers) where teachers went above and beyond to find more relevant content but it was still an uphill battle.
I see from the sample story that these stories are very interactive, allowing you to change names and characteristics. How does this tie into your overall vision for the library?
Yes, the foundation of Shortiez is to have kids infuse themselves and/or people relevant to them into every story. We are trying to impact the psychology of kids at a young age by making them (by name) the main character. Essentially showcasing themselves in a positive light every time they open a book.
The personalization of MadLibs is a feature we are integrating year one. Each year we are hoping to add new innovative ways to engage the readers.
Who can submit stories and what are the guidelines?
Stories are the absolute key to our success. We aren't focused on your typical children book writer (even though we want them to submit stories as well). We are reaching out to singer-songwriters, hip-hop heads, high school & college kids, poets, stay at home parents, and anyone in between.
We are seeking 'Official Shortiez Contributors' who go through a short interview process and can commit to at least 1 story a month over the next year. Those contributors position themselves for hire and other incentives.
We are also seeking people who want to submit a story or two at will just to support the cause. We call this our 'Publish with a Purpose' option/campaign. Anyone can submit a story at any time through our Google forms.
You will see some 'high priority' story needs on the publish with a purpose page. Other than that just submit stories between 1000-5000 words. Any story over 5000 words will be broken up into multiple stories.
How can other educators get Shortiez into their school?
Interested schools can shoot us an email anytime. We are piloting in a few schools over the next few months. Then expanding to other interested schools after winter break. We are licensing our library to schools for $1000 annually this first year.
Keep pushing the culture forward! To learn more about Shortiez, visit their website.