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The Book Distributor

Kassie Colón holds books

Questions and Photograph by Raymond Thompson Jr.

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Using skills from high school debate, Kassie Colón has harnessed a passion for social justice to broaden cultural representation on West Virginia University’s campus and beyond. Colón, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is a senior triple- majoring in Latin American studies, women’s and gender studies, and geography. Colon worked as a New Student Orientation leader and led a workshop on power, privilege and diversity at a state teaching conference in West Virginia. This year, Colón’s commitment to public service helped earn them the prestigious Truman Scholarship, a $30,000 award for students pursuing public service leadership. In 2018, Colón started Project La Resolana, a program that matches books to high school students in South Florida.

What are you planning on doing with your Truman Scholarship?

The Truman Scholarship will fund my education for a PhD in either geography or anthropology. I want to focus on Puerto Rican Studies by conducting a project that uses oral histories and the archive to explain how my Puerto Rican community finds home in spaces infiltrated by imperialism and colonialism. The scholarship will also help me with professional development by connecting me with like-minded educators who strive for social justice and educational equity in the classroom and our communities.

What is Project La Resolana?

Growing up, I didn’t really learn a lot about my culture, but I’ve always really been fascinated with books. I think going to college, being involved in debate and getting involved in reading critical literature about my community in high school made me realize there are disconnections in our education system. There are disconnections in the way that we teach, even in the ways we teach our communities about who we are. So I thought, “How can I fill this gap in education and knowledge?” I started with the help of the Miami Urban Debate League. I contacted my former high school, and our high school was very responsive to it. I collected a whole bunch of books and I mailed them. I had to either pay for them myself or I make a post on social media requesting donations. I made the students I was working with fill out a survey and asked “What if you could have any book in the world. What book would it be?” I got everything from James Baldwin to a book about nursing. I would buy the books from donations that people gave me and mail directly to the student. I also have this really huge cultural library in my apartment. So, I find a book on my shelf, and I’ll just mail it to them. I started working with the head librarian at Fort Lauderdale High School and their book club to do book drives. So now what we’re going to do is take these books that are collected in South Florida and bring them to West Virginia and redistribute them to students here, but my younger sister is also taking a part of Project La Resolana and is going put these collected books at South Florida community centers, laundromats and schools. So that way when students do go to these places, they have access to the literature that’s there.

What is driving you to want to give back in this way?

It’s very cathartic to me because I grew up poor and had to go through a lot of obstacles in my life. I asked myself, “What did I need in that particular moment, and how can I provide that to my community?” Because I can only imagine that there are other students of color like myself who have gone through what they’ve gone through just based off of how society is structured. I want to give students access to literature because I want them to see how it has positively impacted me.