Brandy Robinson

Local Hero: Brandy Robinson initiated the Human Library to raise awareness about the richness and strengths of diversity in the local community.

November 21, 2011 | | Back Issues | Community | Local Heroes | Winter 2011

Brandy Robinson: One of our 2011 Local Heroes

YOU CAN’T TELL A BOOK BY ITS COVER

As an elementary school principal, Brandy Robinson saw a lot of bullying. She found her energy was best spent not only dealing with the bullies, but helping to strengthen the victims and empower the bystanders to be allies – people who stand up and speak out for the victims.

She brought this concept to her recent roles as diversity co-ordinator for Dufferin Child and Family Services and chair of the Dufferin Diversity Network. One of the Diversity Network’s goals is to raise awareness about the richness and strengths of diversity in the local community, and Brandy found the perfect approach: the Human Library.

In a Human Library (originally called a Living Library), the “books” are people who represent a broad range of diversities – anyone who is subject to stereotyping and misunderstanding.

At Human Library events, “readers” sign out the human books and engage in half an hour of one-on-one conversation. They can ask questions and seek understanding, while the books challenge their perceptions. Brandy believes all the “isms” – racism, ageism, heterosexism – are rooted in misconceptions about people who are different from us. The library allows readers to explore these differences and even learn to value them. The experience can also turn the readers into allies.

There are also books that challenge some of the subtler “isms,” including what Brandy calls “looksisms” – stereotypes related to, say, a youth with piercings or a fat person.

The library’s defining concept is that it is about “us,” not “them” – it’s about neighbours meeting neighbours. “When you get to know each other as neighbours, then all you are is neighbours. All those differences disappear,” she says.

The first Living Library took place in Denmark in 2000. Brandy brought the idea to the Diversity Network in 2009 after seeing a CBC news feature on one of the first North American events. With the help of a committee, she brainstormed a wish list of books as well as people who fit the categories. She admits it’s not a particularly systemized way of doing it, but it works. The process has been repeated for three years now, bringing in new and returning books. And each year the library is filled with an amazing group of people. This is all the more impressive because, as Brandy points out, it takes a great deal of courage to be a book, especially in a small community where there is no anonymity.

Brandy and the committee are helped out each year by a group of citizens and organizations from the community, and she is quick to pass on the credit. “That team and the team of books is who we really have to thank. Not so much me. All I did was watch the show,” she says.

Well, not quite. As “chief librarian,” her personal commitment to the library’s goals has been pivotal to its ongoing success. “Doing the library is my way of being an ally to a lot of different diversities,” Brandy says. “That’s really what I feel our work is about.”

Our fourth annual celebration of extraordinary people, meet our other heroes

About the Author More by Laura LaRocca

A freelance writer and mother of five, Laura LaRocca lives in Laurel.

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