By Doug LeDuc
Ellen Sauer and Nicole King are community project coordinators for the Human Library-Fort Wayne. The event, which is scheduled to take place Aug. 4 at the Allen County Public Library downtown, will offer the public a chance to interact with more than 30 human “books.” Real people will be “on loan” to readers. The event will feature opportunities for one-on-one interactions as well as panel discussions.
According to humanlibrary.org, the experience is designed to build a positive framework for conversations that can challenge stereotypes and prejudices through dialogue. While the model for this project has been reproduced in communities worldwide, Fort Wayne’s Human Library will be a true representation of the community, King said. Here, they talk about their vision and give a behind-the-scenes look at the project.
How would you describe the Human Library – Fort Wayne and what you two are doing with it?
Human Library Fort Wayne believes prejudices and stereotypes can be interrupted and dismantled by creating a positive environment for conversation; an environment where real people are “on loan” to readers and where difficult questions are expected, appreciated and answered.
We feel that the books in our human library are a true representation of our community. Its first event, scheduled for Aug. 4 at the Allen County Public Library in downtown Fort Wayne, allows folks visiting it to open the pages of those books and learn from and embrace new faces and stories.
How did you two meet and how did you become involved with the Human Library?
We met about one year ago while serving in a multiracial group. Both of us were interested in the human library concept and decided to forge ahead together and create the first one ever here in Fort Wayne.
We set out to manifest a vision and ended up becoming friends over this past year of planning. Frankly, that was unexpected for both of us — a really lovely surprise for which we are so grateful.
It’s basically been a mini Human Library in action — two women who would be considered ‘other’ in their respective worlds taking the time to learn about each other and shifting their worldviews as a result.
How did your careers develop and how do they relate to what you are doing with the human library?
Nicole has a long tenure as a grant writer, currently working at Unity Performing Arts Foundation. She is also very active in discussing the needs of the community particularly those underserved. It’s her personal mission given that she has been in that category at various times in her life.
Ellen started life as an occupational therapist, seeing firsthand the effects of disconnection and prejudice that her home health clients had to endure.
Now she’s an artist and writer who has been drawn to explore and highlight how we as a community and humanity have forgotten how intricately we are all connected to each other – and how remembering and embracing that connection heals all of us.
Thus, this human library project was a very organic next endeavor for both of us
What is ahead for your careers and your volunteer work with the human library?
We’ve already termed this upcoming ACPL event our First Annual Human Library event because we trust that it will be a perfect way to continue to represent our community in its entirety.
We are considering hosting additional events throughout the year as well – getting different venues and audiences with either the full or partial human library involved.
As for our personal careers, Nicole recently ran for office to serve as a Democratic party delegate as well as a vice precinct chair for the Indiana Democrat African American Caucus (IDAAC) – both positions in an effort to continue her passion of disseminating information related to the underserved in our communities.
Ellen plans to continue her passion of seeking connectedness with her art and writing as well as continuing and expanding a group she formed this year with her husband, Joel, called CREWW – a Collective of Radical Engaged White Witnesses.
CREWW’s mission is to highlight true history and the personal embedded racist structures we as white people need to see in order to unwind them. All of this so we can have the crucial connected conversations that are necessary with other white folks as well as people of color.
What do you like about this kind of work?
We have been truly humbled by this experience. The stories from our books are filled with challenge and also incredible perseverance and love. We are so grateful for their willingness to share their toughest, most profound life experiences with us and others all for the purpose of healing and connecting.
We also love learning first hand the many faces of ‘Survivor.’ This event is truly a step in the direction of showing the other side of healing.
What stands out so far with the development of the Human Library – Fort Wayne?
First and foremost, our friendship is a standout for both of us. And with that comes the reminder that laughter is vital! We are working hard, and at the same time, so fully enjoying each other and the process.
Our other stand out is how creative we need to be with financing for a project like this. The international Human Library through which we are licensed does not allow corporate sponsors of any kind, so we are securing as much donated time and talent as possible, as well as seeking community individual donations via our GoFundMe page.
At the same time, when we are hiring services, we are committed to supporting local, small, diverse businesses.
What advice have you found particularly valuable in your efforts to develop the Human Library – Fort Wayne?
We spoke with several places in the U.S. who have hosted human libraries prior to embarking on our own event. All of them told us to allow ample time to secure the Books as there is a lot of back and forth communication involved in the process.
In following that advice, we’ve learned the value of the books and the sacredness of their stories.
So for us, that valuable advice led to our main goal of ensuring that our books have a positive experience with all of this – leading up to the event in their communications with us, at the event as they share with readers who come to check them out, and down the road for future events.
We’re feeling really protective of them; they are our living, breathing library and we’ve learned that the human story is the best story whether it’s read on paper or live and in person.
If You Go
What: Human Library Fort Wayne
When: Aug. 4
Where: Allen County Public Library Main Branch