Ever since she was a little girl growing up on Staten Island, N.Y., Kaya Thomas ’17 has loved to read.
“My father would take me to Barnes and Noble every weekend and let me pick out two books to buy,” she recalls. “My parents really tried to find books about kids who looked like me.”
Kids, that is, who are African American. But it wasn’t easy to find books for or about children of color. Back then, Thomas says, there were no online bibliographies of children’s literature searchable by the ethnicity of the author or characters. So she just read everything she could get her hands on.
By the time she reached high school, she had become more selective about the books she read. “I started learning about identity and issues related to feminism and race, and it really opened my eyes a lot,” she says. She was still an avid reader of fiction. But in the young adult section, she found that books about African American teenagers were usually set in poor urban areas, and the plots were often tragic.
“The stories tended to be about young girls getting pregnant, dropping out of school, doing drugs—and don’t get me wrong, those are realities for people, even in my own family. But they weren’t my reality,” Thomas says.
Her reality was to excel in high school and get admitted to Dartmouth by early decision. A whiz at math and science, she got hooked on computer coding.
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