Liberation Through Education: Richmond’s Little Radical Library

by | Sep 18, 2020 | POLITICS

At Marcus-David Peters Circle this summer, a small library popped up during protests to educate the public about liberating the working class, queer people, and people of color. Now located in Chimborazo Park, its organizers continue engaging the community with educational activism. 

In the 100 days (and counting) of protests against police brutality in Richmond, the lawn surrounding the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue — now known as Marcus-David Peters Circle — has taken a very different form. The vibrant gathering place was reclaimed by the people of Richmond, a product of community organizers working together. The space has become one for people to congregate and educate themselves on oppressive institutions and Black liberation. Central to that education was a small library consisting of a single bookshelf, seated underneath an umbrella. 

The Little Radical Library started as an idea that came organically from a group of friends. Comprised of local community organizers and activists, its group of founders are also involved with organizations like the Richmond Tenants Union among others. 

“Someone texted the group chat and said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if Marcus-David Peters Circle had a free lending library?’” said Asma, an organizer behind the library. “We ended up being able to put it up in less than 24 hours. It was a very spontaneous decision.” 

PHOTO: Little Radical Library in Marcus-David Peters Circle, via @lilradlibrary/Twitter

Around 10 people have had a hand in creating and maintaining the library. Many more have contributed to the collection through donations. Small Friend, a bookstore on North Lombardy St. in the Fan, has been a major source of reading material for the library. 

Asma has had several roles in keeping the library up and running, including maintaining digital collections and sorting through content. It’s important to the group to ensure that their content fits with the library’s intended subject matter: the liberation of the working class, queer people, and people of color. 

“There’s a time and space in Richmond for almost all forms of knowledge,” said Asma. “Except for liberatory practices.” 

Along with the radical nature of the library’s books, it hosts a collection of zines. One focuses on social reproduction, another on Black liberation — which was produced by Asma alongside their fellow activists — and one about bicycle maintenance. Together, its reading material provides information on subjects related to liberatory consciousness, as well as generally-useful knowledge. 

In addition to the books and zines, the library also contains numerous seeds to grow plants. The seeds weren’t an idea by the organizers; they were actually dropped off by a stranger. 

“I think this is probably the best thing about the library,” said Asma, “that we’re not the only contributors to its content. There are people I’ve never met before, that I will never meet in my life, who have brought things.” 

A police raid on Marcus-David Peters Circle in early July left the library destroyed, but with the help of kind strangers, its organizers got it back up and running. Before they even had a chance to start rebuilding and restocking, people had already begun leaving books at the base of the sign where the library originally stood. 

“It wasn’t even our decision,” said Asma. “It was our decision to get another infrastructure for the library, but our fun friend-chat idea turned out to be something the community needs and wants. They themselves will also maintain it.” 

In early August, the group picked up and moved the library from Marcus-David Peters Circle to Chimborazo Park in Church Hill. It’s been there for about a month so far. 

“There was a lot of discussion about people feeling safe in Marcus-David Peters Circle, and also the neighborhood it’s in is very white,” said Asma. “If we’re saying this movement is for everyone, why are movements always centralized in white neighborhoods?” 

PHOTO: Little Radical Library in Chimborazo Park, via @lilradlibrary/Twitter

According to Asma, they are planning to move the library again soon to maximize accessibility. The next location is currently being discussed; some potential spots include Hotchkiss Field in Northside and Byrd Park. 

One of the Little Radical Library’s tweets says, “Education is only the first step towards liberation.” According to Asma, the next step for Richmond is community building. 

“I think connections in Richmond are very weak, and that since the pandemic, our connections have grown stronger,” said Asma. “Especially with projects like Richmond Mutual Aid, where radical individuals and groups started funneling into this one project. I think that Richmond, in general, can do a lot better with working together rather than having independent projects.” 

The organizers keep a list of books they want to add to the library, and donations can be made to their Venmo account, @lil-rad-library. It’s been a small-scale project so far, but they’re currently discussing how potential volunteers can get involved. 

“We don’t know if the project is ready to expand yet, or if there’s a need to expand,” said Asma. “We have actually had a couple requests to volunteer or engage with us more, but we don’t know yet where we could use more energy. That’s an ongoing discussion, and at some point, we’ll put out some sort of notice if we decide to expand the project.” 

To keep up with the Little Radical Library, find them on Instagram and Twitter

Top Photo via @lilradlibrary/Twitter

Will Gonzalez

Will Gonzalez

Will Gonzalez is a writer from Washington, D.C. living in Richmond. He is a contributor for the Henrico Citizen and VCU's Capital News Service.

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