Teens from Rochester Hills work to increase diversity in libraries across the country

Posted at 7:12 PM, Aug 28, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-28 19:17:22-04

ROCHESTER HILLS, Mich. (WXYZ) — Mena and Zena Nasiri spent their summer vacation working to raise money to buy hundreds of books.

It is all tied to what these teens experienced after they were given an assignment in elementary school to do a report on a book about someone they respected.

“We went to the local library to find books about Muslim women we could do the project on," Zena said. "We didn’t find any."

Mena added that she didn't realize it would be so hard to find those types of books.

“It was unexpected that we couldn’t find one, not even just one, in our library,” Mena said.

It was the first experience the two students had where they noticed a lack of diversity.

Last year the Rochester Adams High School students read "The Lines We Cross" by Randa Abdel-Fattah, and say that was the first book they read with a female Muslim character.

“It was an incredible feeling, and we were wondering how did we not read a book like this? How did we not feel this before,” Mena said.

Being astounded by this realization, the two decided to do something about it.

These sisters spoke to the Rochester Community Schools PTA. The PTA responded by donating money for books about Muslim girls for the school libraries.

The school district said it then reviewed the diversity in school libraries and went to work to increase diversity across the board.

“This whole business of education is humbling," said Dr. Robert Shaner, the Superintendent of Rochester Community Schools. "I have no worry about our future when you look at the kids in front of us everyday. They are amazing.”

Superintendent Dr. Robert Shaner says the girls spoke at a district staff pep rally Wednesday at Rochester High to remind everyone children can change the world.

Mena and Zena have now started a nonprofit called Girls of the Crescent. Its goal is to bring books about Muslim women to schools and libraries across the country. They are asking the community and authors to support them with donations for books.

“If you can read about a person you relate to but they are different, you can see differences as something you can accept, not something that sets you apart,” Mena said.

Zena added, "These books are available. They just need to be brought into the light."