Students launch nonprofit to diversify community book collections

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published August 7, 2018

 Sisters Zena and Mena Nasiri launched Girls of the Crescent, a nonprofit organization that donates books with female Muslim main characters to school media centers and libraries across the U.S.

Sisters Zena and Mena Nasiri launched Girls of the Crescent, a nonprofit organization that donates books with female Muslim main characters to school media centers and libraries across the U.S.

Photo provided by the Rochester Hills Public Library

ROCHESTER/ROCHESTER HILLS/OAKLAND TOWNSHIP — When sisters Zena and Mena Nasiri got fed up about the lack of diversity in books within their community, they decided to do something about it.

“We had a project where we had to research someone we looked up to, so we went to the library with some Muslim women in mind that were really big role models to us, but we couldn’t find any books. That’s when we realized we wanted to contribute some books to the library so other children could see themselves represented,” said Mena Nasiri.

Rochester Community Schools PTA Council President Barb Rill said the Nasiri sisters — who will both attend Adams High School this fall — made a pitch to the district’s PTA Council at its February meeting, and individual PTAs voted to purchase the books the girls researched to promote diversity within the district.

“We are thrilled that these student leaders saw a need, did the legwork, and found a productive way to increase diversity and give our students new literary characters to better identify with,” Rill said in a statement. “This is a wonderful example of the partnership opportunities with students and PTA to continue enhancing the learning environment for all.”

In the spring, 15-year-old Zena Nasiri and 14-year-old Mena Nasiri launched Girls of the Crescent, a nonprofit organization that donates books with female Muslim main characters to school media centers and libraries across the U.S.

Just last week, Girls of the Crescent donated 17 books featuring female Muslim leads to the Rochester Hills Public Library’s youth and teen departments.

“They had researched (the books) and consulted professional journals for reviews. They really brought us quality literature,” said Youth Services Manager Betsy Raczowski, who noted that a number of the titles were also purchased by the library to add to its Bookmobile and Little Blue Bus collections.

Library officials say research shows that representation through literature enables readers to envision things possible for their own life, helps marginalized people feel visible and showcases cultures a reader may not have been familiar with otherwise.

“The feeling of seeing yourself in a book is so indescribable. … We want everyone to be able to feel the feeling of being represented,” said Zena Nasiri.

Raczowski said the library fully supports stories that reflect diversity in race, gender identity and ability.

“We want everybody to come in and be able to find themselves in the books we have,” she said. “This really helps us further our goals of having everyone represented, and it really impressed me that they valued the library so much that they saw this as the best place to go to reach people.”

The Nasiri sisters are also in the process of writing their own book.

The Rochester Hills Public Library serves 100,485 residents of Rochester, Rochester Hills and Oakland Township. The library is open 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 1-6 p.m. Sundays.

For more information on Girls of the Crescent or to donate, visit www.girlsofthecrescent.org.