Story Like MineLast month, an episode of OPB’s “Think Out Loud” radio program began with a surprising twist on America’s race problem: “The world of children’s books,” host Geoff Norcross says, “doesn’t look a whole lot like the world of children.”

In 2013, less than 3 percent of children’s books published in the U.S. were about black people, a diversity shortfall that means thousands of American kids grow up reading stories about characters who don’t look like them.

The silver lining: That gap might soon be narrowing in Portland, thanks to an innovative campaign developed by graduate students in the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication (SOJC).

The nonprofit Children’s Book Bank launched the A Story Like Mine initiative this summer following a monthslong partnership with students in the SOJC’s Strategic Communication master’s program. The goal of the campaign is to raise $25,000 to buy 5,000 new multicultural children’s books — enough to serve a quarter of the organization’s 4,000 client families.

“From the very beginning, I just loved the idea,” says Dani Swope, executive director of the Children’s Book Bank. “The students did a deep dive into our needs, and they came up with a very thoughtful and creative solution.”

A Story Like Mine began in Donna Davis’s J623 Creativity in Strategic Communication course, where for 10 weeks her classroom transformed into a working creative agency. As students jumped into professional roles, they were tasked with tackling a steep challenge: about 75 percent of the families served by the Children’s Book Bank are racial minorities, but less than 2 percent of the books donated each year qualify as multicultural.

“The people donating books are generally white and middle class,” explains Natalie Bennon, the team’s vice president for fundraising, who now works as communications and marketing director for Pacific Rivers. “To get more diverse books, the Children’s Book Bank usually has to buy them, so we came up with a strategy to communicate that need and help raise money.”

In only a few months, A Story Like Mine has exploded into a giant success, earning press from KATU-TV as well as a 20-minute segment on OPB’s popular “Think Out Loud” program. Meanwhile, Swope says the Children’s Book Bank has already raised about $17,500 of its $25,000 goal, and incoming book donations are beginning to reflect the new multicultural emphasis.

“It’s exciting for our students to see their work working,” says Davis, who directs the SOJC’s Strategic Communication master’s program. “Strategic communication is really about having an impact, and A Story Like Mine is doing that.”

This term, Davis’s students are developing a campaign for Harper’s Playground, a nonprofit that works to build accessible and inclusive play areas in Portland.

Story by Ben DeJarnette, MA ’15

To learn about how to apply for the SOJC’s Strategic Communication program, visit the program’s web page or contact Graduate Programs Manager Jered Nagel.