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Maja Antoine-Onikoyi, Maja’s Education Project
via majaseducationproject.com

This project sends Black history books to people who can’t afford them

Maja’s Education Project has provided over £4,000 worth of books on Black history, criminal justice, and non-Black allyship, plus fiction and poetry from Black authors

As Black Lives Matter activists took to the streets in unprecedented demonstrations across the US this June, the #BlackOutTuesday trend briefly saw Instagram feeds swept up in a mass of black squares. Originally, the collective action was meant to ‘provoke accountability and change’ among the music industry in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd. However, as the viral trend spread, the black squares began to shut down vital conversations online, clogging up channels used to share information and coordinate protests.

In other cases, critics pointed out, the trend also took the place of real, meaningful ways to support the movement. “I really don’t like performative activism, so the whole #BlackOutTuesday thing really irritated me,” says Maja Antoine-Onikoyi, a 20-year-old activist from Watford and the founding director of Maja’s Education Project. “I found that people used it as a cop out to say they were helping because they posted a black square and an infographic. I wanted to actually DO something, that would encourage other people to actually make change.”

And that’s where Maja’s Education Project began. “I wanted everyone to educate themselves, not keep using black people to do the heavy lifting and them just posting it,” Antoine-Onikoyi tells Dazed. “But a lot of people stressed to me that they couldn’t afford to buy books or resources to do this, so I thought I’d send out a few. Then it escalated into what it is today.”

Donations began pouring in when she announced the project, and they haven’t stopped since. By now, over £4,000 worth of books on Black history, criminal justice, non-Black allyship, and more have been distributed to those that might not otherwise have access to them.

Why did Antoine-Onikoyi choose books? While she says that there are many other ways to educate yourself about Black lives now – including insightful documentaries, or the anti-racism graphics shared via social media – she points out that books play a different role. “People briefly skim online articles and videos, but they become invested in books, they feel like they’ve been taught something and it sticks with them longer.” 

“That’s so necessary today,” she adds, “because we can’t keep having fleeting allies and movements that result in everything being forgotten when it isn’t trending anymore.”

For Antoine-Onikoyi, some essential examples include Akala’s Natives and Audre Lorde’s posthumous collection of speeches, essays, and poems: Your Silence Will Not Protect You, which she also recommends for non-Black allies specifically, saying: “I think that white ‘allies’ believe that it is enough to simply not be racist, it isn’t. You have to be actively anti-racist for you to call yourself an ally. If you’re silent, you’re on the side of the oppressor.”

As for fiction, Maja’s Education Project lists titles ranging from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah to children’s books such as Love Thy Fro, from Toni Morrison’s Beloved to Malorie Blackman’s YA novel Noughts & Crosses. Such Black literature is important, Antoine-Onikoyi suggests, “because the stories being told may be fiction, but they’re relatable. They’re stories of things that are happening, and have happened before, that people need to see in their heads to understand.” 

“If you’re shocked at what a Black character experienced in a fiction book, take that feeling and apply it to your Black friend; they’ve probably been through exactly that. Use that, and learn from it.”

Looking to the future, Antoine-Onikoyi aims to eventually send books to schools and prisons through Maja’s Education Project, and to work with authors to get books on Black history and injustice into the curriculum. “How can we raise a generation to understand Black people’s struggles if their knowledge, like ours, was halted at Malcom X and Rosa Parks?” she asks. “How can we raise a generation of white allies, if white children only see Black people portrayed as thugs and vilified in the media? We have to work from the ground up.”

Find out more about Maja’s Education Project, and support the fundraiser here