Kinadee Jordan is an effervescent, sassy 13-year-old. When asked what’s the secret sauce of the Montessori School of Englewood, she quips, “Me!”
With 420 students, the charter school at 6936 S. Hermitage Ave. is almost entirely free to its predominantly Black population. Kinadee has been at the school since first grade. Now in eighth grade, she loves to sing and read.
She’s currently reading “Inside Out & Back Again” by Thanhha Lai. The novel, about a young girl whose family flees to the U.S. during the Vietnam War, is one Kinadee deeply relates to.
“No wars have happened since I was born, that I know of, but it’s just violence in the community, violence in the world, that I wish I could migrate away from. But I can’t,” said Kinadee. “It haunts me every night. I feel like it follows me, like the clouds.”
Kinadee’s reading has helped her empathize with others on a deeper level, but one thing has always bothered her.
“I know there are Black authors in the world,” she said. “I want books on my culture.”
Kinadee’s cry was heard by the school’s executive director, Rita Nolan, and board member Quilen Blackwell, who also offers at-risk youth jobs in his flower shop, Southside Blooms at 6250 S. Morgan St.
Together, they came up with Books and Blooms, an initiative to raise $10,000 so the school can purchase books featuring Black and Brown main characters.
“What we’re trying to do is make sure that we have the resources to be able to make sure from our kindergarten on up that . . . books with the African American child in the center, not just the periphery,” are in each classroom, said Nolan.
That can’t be done, she added, when most donated books are Eurocentric.
“One of the challenges that we have is when people donate books, they give us their scraps, and that’s a big thing that we want to try to change,” explained Blackwell. “We want the school and students to have more agency over the kind of books that they want.”
Southside Blooms will donate 20% of revenue from purchases at southsideblooms.com using the code “BOOKS” to the school.
The books will also be bought from minority-owned bookstores, Nolan added.
For Kinadee, minority-focused books will help others understand what it means to be a Black girl — and for Black girls to know they can change the world.
“Girls that are going to be in our next generation should realize, ‘I’m really not in a good world right now,’ and they should look at this not as a warning, but as inspiration to keep trying and letting the world know,” she said.
Kinadee hopes to inspire others with her own memoir someday.
Cheyanne M. Daniels is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.