December 17, 2020 – The imagination of every child ignites when they turn the pages of a book. From good stories young people learn how to face challenges and how to stay true to themselves. But what if, on every page, a blue-eyed, blonde princess stares back at them? If the reader shares nothing in common with the protagonist, is the message lost in translation?
Three fourth-year UF medical students aim to ensure Gainesville’s pediatric patients can see themselves – and all the possibilities that await them, no matter their identity – when they sit down with a book.
On December 10, Emily Pregmon, Sean Livingston and Michaela O’Driscoll delivered 240 books to pediatric clinics at the Gerold L. Schiebler Children’s Medical Services Center, Magnolia Park, Tioga and Tower Square in Gainesville. Titles like “I Love My Hair!” by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley and E. B. Lewis and “All Are Welcome” by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman range from preschool to elementary school reading levels and focus on themes like self-love, the value of family and culture, positivity and diversity.
“As future physicians, it is our duty to ensure not only the physical health but also the emotional well-being of our patients,” says Livingston. “Children are at such a crucial stage in their development, and we wanted to make sure that our patients, especially children of color, felt included and loved.”
Pregmon says she hopes pediatric patients of color will enjoy seeing protagonists they can relate to in these books, but children of all identities will benefit from learning about cultures other than their own.
“By identifying with these characters, we hope children of color feel valued and encouraged in their dreams and aspirations,” she says. “Furthermore, we hope that all children who encounter these books will benefit from being exposed to a variety of cultures and the important lessons of diversity from a young age.”
Pregmon says the book delivery was made possible through funding from the Gold Humanism Honor Society, a national organization that recognizes students, residents and physicians for compassionate patient care, leadership and dedication to service.
“The Gold Humanism Honor Society has made an effort to promote diversity and actively combat racism in response to the events of 2020,” says Pregmon. “We saw an opportunity to instill these values in children by showcasing people of color in the books they engage with. Children from all backgrounds can identify with and learn from these valuable role models as they develop.”