New Anti-Racist Little Free Library takes root outside Brecksville UCC

by Jacqueline Mitchell 

Gina Thomas-McGee, a Brecksville resident for about seven years, attended the Black Lives Matter protest held in the city in June and was inspired by the energy of the crowd.

“Everyone was just really wanting to be helpful and do good, and it was really inspiring,” she said. 

Around the same time, she had read a blog post about building a Little Free Library, a worldwide book-sharing initiative that promotes neighborhood book exchanges.

Thomas-McGee thought about her desire to harness the energy she felt at the protest into a community-wide project, and the two ideas clicked. 

“I thought, ‘OK, there are these plans that I can see for building a little library, and I want to do some work in my community around social justice,’” she said. “So, I just put those two ideas together and said, ‘Yes, I want to build an anti-racist Little Free Library.’” 

It was important that the project was hyper-local and accessible, said Thomas-McGee, who lives on Whitewood Road with her husband and two children, not far from Brecksville’s Public Square. 

“I wanted somewhere really visible in town, and my ideal option was somewhere surrounding the town square where the gazebo is,” she said.

She knew a bit about Brecksville United Church of Christ’s mission of inclusivity and felt that the location, at 23 Public Square, could be a good fit for the library. So, she contacted the church through social media, Zoomed with its council about the idea, and received a positive response from church leaders. 

“I’m not a member of the church, but they have greeted me very warmly and with open arms,” Thomas-McGee said. 

Brecksville UCC Interim Pastor the Rev. Allan Lane said the church has a long history of involvement in social justice issues, especially the gay rights movement.

“So the idea that we would also get involved with racial justice issues was just a natural continuation of what we were already doing,” he said. 

When it came to building the library structure, Thomas-McGee recruited neighbors Will and Rachel Ealy. 

“Will is a bit of a carpenter himself on the side,” she said. “They live across the street from us. So we built it in our garages. It is free-standing, so we built the entire thing at home and then transported it to the church. We did all of the building, painting, hardware, everything, at our homes when we had spare time, because we both have children.” 

Thomas-McGee said that Little Free Library offers the option to purchase kits from its website, but she purchased most of her materials locally from Brecksville’s Larsen Lumber. 

The library was installed in late August. Books have been donated by activists both near and far. Thomas-McGee started the library off with her own purchases, then created the Instagram page @anti_racist_little_library, which features in its bio an Amazon Wish List of books she’s selected that donors can purchase and have sent directly to Thomas-McGee.

“My friends and family have donated,” she said. “A lot of our neighbors have seen us working on the project and were interested, so they donated. And members of the church have donated, too.

“Also, we have gotten some donations from people outside of the city, outside of the state, and even one from Canada who happened to be following the page on Instagram and sent us some books from Toronto, which was so lovely.” 

Once she receives the books, Thomas-McGee places donation nameplates inside them and delivers them to the library. 

Passersby are welcome to pop a book inside the library without going through Thomas-McGee, she said. 

The library is open to the entire community, and its rules are more flexible than a typical public library. 

“They can [bring the book back once they’re done reading it], but they’re not required to,” Thomas-McGee said. “We welcome people to bring it back, but in my mind, if someone is keeping it or then passing it along to somebody else, that’s part of the work of the library as well. So I’m happy to see it done either way.” 

Books are restocked as the library’s supply diminishes. 

“We’ve gone through a lot of books already, which is wonderful; that’s exactly what I like to see, and I’m glad that it’s being used,” Thomas-McGee said. “So we’re just continuously seeking donations, and used books, too. If you have something that you read and think would be a good fit to the work of anti-racism, or if it is putting a spotlight on an author or creator who is a person of color or an Indigenous person, that would be wonderful.” 

The library’s power, Thomas-McGee said, lies in its ability to deliver anti-racism tools directly from the experts. 

“I don’t have all of the tools to teach anti-racism,” she said. “I’m learning myself every day, all the time. So I’m hoping that we can spread the words of the experts in this field and the people who are doing the amazing work of teaching others. 

“I hope that people find those messages and internalize them so they can use them when they need them. They can use them to change their own behaviors and their own biases, and then also spread those ideas and thoughts to others as well when they need them. I think that’s the great thing about books, is that you can internalize all of those ideas, and then they’re there for you; they’re tools.” 

As a mother of a 1-year-old and a 5-year-old, Thomas-McGee said she’s been especially inspired by the children’s books featured in the library. One of her favorites is “You Matter,” by author and illustrator Christian Robinson.

“I think they’re good for adults, too,” Thomas-McGee said of children’s books, “because they’re so powerful, and they have to do it in such a short amount of space and time, and the message gets really distilled, and it’s so beautiful.” 

Lane said that members of the church have broadened their perspectives by reading, and he hopes library users will explore many of those same lessons: “That racism isn’t just a personal attitude, but is part of a larger system of privileges and behaviors within our society that is much harder to get rid of than just changing one person’s attitude. We’re hoping that people will be able to see the problem in a new light and be open to new approaches to developing a society that’s there for everybody.” 

Thomas-McGee said anti-racism has connections to everyone, regardless of race.

“I feel like it is my duty, especially as a white person, to do the work of anti-racism, because racism in our country is systemic, and it has been built by white people, so I want to be a part of breaking that down and making it better, bit by bit.” 

She maintains that it’s not a political issue, but a responsibility we have to others as humans. 

“I think it’s a matter of human kindness and human respect for all people,” she said. “There shouldn’t be anything about a person that is out of their control that should mean they’re not respected or treated as human and loved and given the same opportunities as other people.

“I know that a little library’s not going to solve [problems of racism] in itself, but I do think the work of anti-racism starts and continues with small actions.” 

The library was dedicated at a small ceremony outside Brecksville UCC on Sept. 26. 

At the dedication, Thomas-McGee said, “I know that I am a white woman standing here talking about anti-racism, and from the looks of it – I’m not making any assumptions – we’re also a pretty white group. But I think that’s the point. It shouldn’t be a burden on people of color to do the work of anti-racism. It should be on us.”  To donate to the Anti-Racist Little Free Library, visit

Feature image photo caption: Neighbors on Whitewood Drive recently built an Anti-racist Little Free Library in their garages and installed it outside the Brecksville United Church of Christ. From l-r, Rachel, Will, Jacob (standing) and Nathan Ealy (being held), Daniel McGee, Henry McGee (standing), Gina Thomas McGee and George McGee (being held).

“You Matter” by Christian Robinson is placed in the Anti-Racist Little Free Library. Photo by G. Thomas McGee