We had the good fortune of connecting with Shannon Griffin and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Shannon, what matters most to you?
Justice is at the center of all of my greatest passions in life, whether through the lens of author, mother, or educator, I continually return to the idea that every individual must be treated equitably and fairly by society. My favorite quote from Maya Angelou, “do the best you can until you know better, and when you know better, do better” perfectly sums up my dedication to the work of social justice. Through my position and privilege, I hope to show solidarity by learning from other’s histories and stories—finding commonalities and connections—and using that knowledge and sense of unity to take action for systemic change.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I am currently a full-time 4th grade teacher, and the K-12 District Diversity Chair for large school district in central Ohio. In this role, I have advanced multiple initiatives that support our district’s vision and mission of inclusive excellence, one example being last year’s first ever African American Read-In, where over 1700 students participated, and 100% of the teachers involved utilized new texts in their centering of African American books and authors. In addition to my district leadership role, I am also a chair member of NCTE’s Build Your Stack committee, guest lecturer, professional development specialist, public speaker, and writer with a focused passion on diversity, inclusion and anti-racist education. I hope to transform student, teacher and community relationships by providing resources and support for equitable and justice-centered teaching, encouraging conversations around tough topics, and engaging in social activism.
As a mother, educator, and all-around book lover, I am acutely aware of the power of representation and diversity in literature. This awareness, which turned into necessity, gave birth to my “passion project”, Literally Cultured, a blog and website centered on diversity and representation in children’s literature that I started in March of 2019. I believe that books have the power to take us to places beyond our wildest imaginations, introduce us to people we may never meet, and immerse us into stories of joy, heartache, and pain through experiences and interactions that we may not have ever understood or considered otherwise. To quote James Baldwin, “It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive or who had ever been alive.”
I define Literally Cultured as “actively seeking to cultivate your understanding and knowledge of diverse perspectives and people through the vessel of written words”. Now more than ever, it is crucial for us to step into the stories of others. From children to adults, books force us to become active and invested listeners. We aren’t in a position to disagree or agree with an opinion, share our own experiences that we feel might be similar, provide “facts” on why your feelings/opinions aren’t merited, or thinking of a rebuttal…instead we are listening. And when we truly listen, we practice empathy. With these beliefs and ideas in mind, I was very strategic and purposeful in defining what I wanted Literally Cultured to be.
For me, there is no better way to model inclusiveness than to show our peers, our students, and our own children that we value and celebrate differences through the books that we read, the voices that we choose to listen to.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
One of our state’s slogans is, “Ohio. Find it here”, and I guess you could say there are plenty of hidden gems to find right here in Columbus, Ohio and neighboring cities. I place to buy books seems like the obvious place to begin. German Village is home to The Book Loft, only a few blocks South of the state capitol building, this bookstore, which includes 32 rooms of bargain books, is housed in pre-Civil War era buildings that once were general stores, a saloon, and a nickelodeon cinema. Aside from my love of buying books as much as I love reading them, I also love finding and listening to vinyl records. Magnolia Thunderpussy is the oldest record store in the city, having been established in 1969. With a location next to another Columbus music staple, Skully’s Music Diner, the store is a living museum of pop culture. In addition to thousands of vinyl records in the hip-hop, metal, rock, pop, and other genre categories, Magnolia offers a wide selection of CDs & DVDs, hundreds of band t-shirts, patches & buttons, posters, and other memorabilia. Once you’ve worked up an appetite stocking up on books and vinyl, you will want to stop for a sweet snack at Resch’s, a bakery featuring jelly rolls, birthday cakes, apple fritters and other baked goods in a meticulous German way. The longevity of this business alone speaks for the deliciousness you will find inside. Aside from the Covid-19 pandemic, Resch’s family owned and operated bakery has survived two world wars, the Great Depression, urban flight, changing culinary tastes and even a previous global health catastrophe.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
It’s hard to pinpoint one person that has had the largest impact on my success, as it is really more about the collective moments and experiences throughout my life that have shaped me into the person that I am today. I do, however, want to take the time to shout out some of my biggest cheerleaders along the way. First and foremost, my parents– they have always encouraged me to be my authentic self, to ask questions, and use my passionate drive as fuel for taking meaningful action. Their modeling of unyielding compassion towards others, no matter how different, or similar, is the foundation of my activism today. To my husband, and sons, who are my daily inspiration and constant reminders of my greater purpose on this planet. With their love and support, I feel able to confront any challenge or obstacle. I want to thank my family, friends, and colleagues, who have believed in me, even when I haven’t believed in myself, challenging me to be the best version of myself. Finally, I would like to thank Kingsley Osei, rockstar educator and author, who nominated me for this great privilege, and also happens to be the editor of my first children’s book, “Black Man: A Superhero Story”.