Picking up a bookmark reading, “You have friends in the United States // Tienes un amigo en los Estados Unidos,” 10-year-old Jocylyn began to draw a pink and yellow flower amid the printed lettering. Next, she drew a sun, followed by a line of blue rain, finishing with a grassy layer beneath the flower’s stem.
“The flower is starting to fall, but then the rain comes down onto it and gives it strength to pick itself back up,” said Jocylyn. “I want the kid who sees this to feel the same way.”
Jocylyn was one of 30 Latino children who gathered at Mighty Writers’ El Futuro location on Thursday to craft personal messages and designs on 700 bookmarks. Destined for immigrant detention centers across the country, each bookmark will be paired with a Spanish-language children’s book and sent out by Mighty Writers, a local nonprofit that works to develop writing skills among youths at six Philadelphia locations.
“Our hope is that this will bring some comfort to these kids, seeing books with people that look like them in a language that they can understand,” says Mighty Writers founder Tim Whitaker.
As the Trump administration’s immigration policy has dominated headlines, Mighty Writers began with a plan to deliver books to the Berks County Residential Center, 75 miles northwest of Philadelphia. It’s one of three centers in the U.S. licensed to hold detained families with children.
Around 20 families with children are detained at Berks. Next week, Mighty Writers will hand-deliver 100 bookmarks and books, varying in reading level from pre-K to 12th grade and all written in Spanish, to the center.
“We knew that detention centers across the U.S. were deficient in reading material, particularly for Spanish-speakers,” said Madeline Karp, program director of Mighty Writers’ El Futuro location, who proposed the initiative. “A lot of the people in our community voiced that they wanted to help out, and so we quickly recognized we should do something.”
Nestled between vendors selling whole monkfish and bargain two-for-$1 eggplant in the Italian Market, Mighty Writers’ El Futuro consists almost exclusively of Mexican kids, many of whom come from undocumented families themselves.
“I want to remind them that they’re not alone,” said 10-year-old Deunai, who, between bites of pizza, showed off a bookmark with a bright red flower and the words No estan solos (“You are not alone”). “Flowers always make me feel beautiful and loved.”
Other bookmarks held drawings of the Mexican flag, hearts, rainbows, sunsets, and other cheerful imagery.
To obtain the books, Mighty Writers reached out to First Book, a national nonprofit that provides educational resources to those in need.
“They gave us a quick $3,000 grant, and they turned it around in 24 hours, which is kind of unheard of in the nonprofit world,” said Whitaker.
After delivering the first batch to Berks, Whitaker said, the next goal is to coordinate where to send the remaining 600 books that were purchased with the grant.
“Some of the detention centers do have libraries, but we want these books to go home with the kids,” said Whitaker. “When they do finally get to leave the center, we want these to be the start to their own library in their new home.”