Essex festival will celebrate inspirational Black book project

  • Date

    Fri 30 Apr 21

Maja Antoine-Onikoyi taking a selfie of herself holding a stack of books in one hand and her phone in the other.

An inspirational project founded by an Essex student, which has helped distribute almost £5,000-worth of books about Black lives and Black history, is being supported by Essex Book Festival.

Final-year student Maja Antoine-Onikoyi, who is studying BA Film and Creative Writing, founded Maja’s Education Project last year after Black Lives Matter protests sparked increased interest in Black history and racism.

The project is being promoted in the Essex Book Festival brochure and at events. Maja is also speaking at an associated Essex Cultural Diversity Project event on 12 May, where she’ll be one of ten panellists talking about championing and celebrating women and diversity in the arts and communities.

Maja’s Education Project allows people who can’t afford to buy books themselves to request a free book from the online bookstore which they can either keep or return in exchange for another book. The bookstore includes books by Black authors about Black history, racial injustice, and the oppression of Black people.

Speaking about what inspired her, Maja said: “The amount of performative activism on social media encouraged me to inform people that the best way to help was to actively educate themselves on how to help Black people, rather than asking Black people to do the work for them.”

She believes that as well as being actively anti-racist, white communities need to learn about the privileges and racist systems that perpetuate inequality: “Everybody should know the history, truths, and experiences of Black people to understand what we are fighting for and why. As well as what we go through daily as a result of systemic racism.

“It is also vital for young people of all ages and ethnicities to see Black people positively represented in literature, she added.”

She knows precisely which books she would recommend to interested readers: Me and White Supremacy by Layla F Saad, The Black Friend by Frederick Joseph, and Natives by Akala, for white people; and Natives, Black and British by David Olusoga, and any fiction by Black authors, for black people.

Maja’s Education Project is a non-profit organisation funded by donations. Maja hopes additional funding will help her expand the project into schools and libraries in the future. If you’d like to support the project you can donate books or money.