Across the U.S., extremists are targeting honest discussions of history, acknowledgment of diversity, and the continued push for racial equity in our society. Between January to December 2022, over 2,600 unique books that fairly address issues of race, gender, and culture in age-appropriate ways were at risk of being banned from classroom and library shelves by state or local officials. Encompassing different types of bans, this figure includes removals of books from school libraries, prohibitions in classrooms, or both, as well as books banned from circulation during investigations resulting from challenges from parents, educators, administrators, board members, or responses to laws passed by legislatures.
In response, CAA Foundation, the philanthropic arm of leading entertainment and sports agency Creative Artists Agency (CAA), in partnership with Campaign for Our Shared Future (CoSF), a non-partisan effort to preserve equity and excellence in K-12 education, and PEN America, a nonprofit, nonpartisan free expression organization, launched #LetAmericaRead, a call to action designed to raise awareness of the growing danger of book bans in America.
To raise awareness, our objectives were to generate press attention and consumer awareness of the rising spread of banned books in public schools and libraries and the potential to create gaps in knowledge for young learners.
Sitting at the intersection of entertainment and education, the CAA Foundation’s strategy for #LetAmericaRead was to leverage CAA’s network of celebrity and influencer talent to connect the public with necessary actions they can take in response to book bans. Launched in April 2023, in conjunction with School Library Month, the primarily social media-driven campaign invited CAA talent and entertainment industry executives to post a brief video to Instagram or TikTok, where they would showcase a banned or challenged book of their choice, explain its personal significance, and direct viewers to a microsite with the call to action. Utilizing a curated list of books that have been banned in America this school year, participants were given the opportunity to choose from both classic novels and children’s books. This selection included highly honored and regarded titles (Pulitzer Prize or Caldecott Medal winners, or other prestigious honors) to reflect the experiences of a range of communities most affected by the bans.
A challenge faced when strategizing the call to action was deciding what demographic to target, as these book bans affect learners of all ages. Driven by the desire to help protect children’s freedom to learn, the team chose to center their efforts on K–12 education as thousands of books reflecting the lives and realities of people of all races, faiths, and identities have been pulled from library and classroom shelves, depriving children of access to stories that can inform, encourage, and inspire them.
Understanding how the movement to censor books affects a diverse and varied set of identities, topics, concepts, and stories, #LetAmericaRead released a Summer Book Club List highlighting banned and challenged books. The Summer Book Club List featured everything from informative books about censorship and graphic novels, to titles for parents of elementary school children.
To further raise consumer awareness and education, the #LetAmericaRead microsite was updated to feature key information and resources to take action.
In regard to social analytics, an objective for the call to action’s launch phase was to amass 3 million impressions and 10,000 unique visits to the campaign microsite to learn more.
As a result of the Let America Read call to action and the amplification of book ban awareness, the campaign has reached over 4.5 million people since the launch in April. Celebrity participants that amplified the call to action on social media included Eva Longoria, Sterling K. Brown, Julianna Margulies, Selma Blair, Shonda Rhimes, Andy Cohen, Lola Tung, and many other public figures. Receiving wide press coverage, the call to action was shared across notable entertainment, business and lifestyle media outlets, including Fast Company, People Magazine, Deadline, and USA Today.
While the first phase of the call to action successfully surpassed social media objectives, the CAA Foundation understands that protecting the freedom to read is a continuous effort as books continue to be banned or challenged at state and local levels. Leveraging the reach of talent and partnering with nonprofits and organizations in support of intellectual freedom, the CAA Foundation continues to push this call to action and educate both parents and educators on the risks of denying young learners the opportunity to have honest discussions of history, diversity, and racial equity in our society.