Mijha Butcher Godfrey: Inviting Families to Explore Diversity through Jambo Books
Hi everyone! I’m Spiffy, your favorite interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs making a difference on gender equality. Today I’m in Decatur, Georgia to meet Mijha Butcher Godfrey, the founder of Jambo Books, a company that is working to improve UN SDG 4: Quality Education. Are you ready to be inspired?
Spiffy: Thanks so much for taking the time to sit with me, Mijha. Can you tell me what challenges you’re addressing?
Mijha: It’s a pleasure, Spiffy! Jambo Book Club exists to broaden the perspectives and build the empathy of our readers and their families. We shine a spotlight on diverse children in their everyday and fantasy lives. We hope that our efforts will start conversations that underscore the beauty of our common humanity. We are passionate about helping parents raise children who won't have to be taught to tolerate people who don't look like them because they will crave a diversity of perspectives and traditions as part of a rich life.
Spiffy: You’re right, there is so much to learn from the world’s common humanity! So, what motivated you to do this through your book club?
Mijha: My husband and I started Jambo Books because we were searching for high-quality books starring children of color in situations where children’s literature rarely places them — making friends, raising pets, loving grandparents, and fighting dragons. We focus on finding books that give our children a vision of the world we want them to live in — diverse, vibrant, and kind. We’re excited to share those books with other children through Jambo Book Club. The Jambo Books that subscribers received in June 2021. (Photo credit to Elizabeth Karp Photography)
Spiffy: Can you talk about how you’re working to create a more equitable world?
Mijha: Well, Spiffy, the stories we tell children matter. From their youngest years, kids learn who and what adults value. Finding children's books with characters that more accurately represent the rich diversity of modern America is hard. In fact, a recent study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that only 14% of children's books published in 2015 had a non-white main character. Today's America is diverse, and growing more so by the day. “Jambo” means “Hello” in Swahili. “Hello” is an invitation to start a connection, to learn something new, to expand our notion of what it is to be human. Similarly, we invite our readers to build their own empathy muscles by reading about people who aren’t exactly like themselves. Together, we affirm the humanity of every person.
Spiffy: Can you tell me about an initiative you’re excited about? What kind of impact do you anticipate it will have?
Mijha: Now that we are starting to be able to gather again, we are going to launch Jambo Book Club in person. We have many members who are clustered in neighborhoods where they may not know each other. We want to give our members an opportunity to meet up online or in real life. Those connections will help members build relationships across racial and ethnic lines with neighbors who are also dedicated to social justice. Their kids can meet each other and play or discuss the books and most importantly, the parents will be living out the meaning of Jambo by starting conversations and building bridges.
Spiffy: Before we sign off, can you tell me about an experience when you faced failure and didn't give up. What did you learn from failure?
Mijha: When I look back over the life of Jambo Books, I would say that the most glaring failure is that we didn’t create a nonprofit alongside the for-profit company that would be able to raise funds to purchase and distribute books to less privileged children. Currently, we offer donation subscriptions that Jambo will match. So if someone buys a donation subscription, we will match that subscription for a second family. We work with the Decatur Education Foundation to identify families that receive these gift subscriptions. We eventually want to engage a nonprofit attorney to set up a nonprofit entity that can do more active fundraising and distribution of books featuring children of color to families with low financial resources.
Spiffy: It sounds like there is a slew of opportunities for you to keep reaching people and spreading the message of diversity and acceptance! Thanks so much for talking with me, Mijha, it’s been an honor.
Mijha Godfrey is a former affordable housing developer, lawyer, and founder of Jambo Books. The stories in Jambo Books focus on the beauty of childhood, the joys of friendship and family, the thrill of new adventures, and the wonderful tapestry that is the life of a child of color. (First published on the Ladderworks website on July 20, 2021.)
© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s interviews of founders building a more equitable world here.