21Country: The Fort Wayne Human Library

Learning how to “unjudge someone”
Updated: Aug. 30, 2022 at 5:30 PM EDT
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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA21) - During select events, the Human Library Fort Wayne operates much like any other — thought the experience of reading a “book” is significantly different. The selections offered, are actually people, and the stories told, are their life experiences. The majority of “readers” walk away with empathy and perhaps even a deeper understanding of the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover”.

The Human Library

22 years ago, the concept of the human library was founded in Copenhagen. “Menneskebiblioteket” as it is called, was created as a temporary project for an annual Danish festival. But it grew year after year from there, reaching the US in 2008, and Fort Wayne in 2017. The not-for-profit now has groups in 80 countries. “The Human Library is an organization that basically allows the opportunity for people to get together,” librarian Dustin Thorp explained. “Books, who are humans, and readers, who come in to read the books, sit down and have an open conversation.” Locally, topics include: autism, rape, feminism, dominatrix, child bride, immigration, invisible disabilities, trans/non-binary couple, etc. For 30-minutes, the readers can listen and engage in conversation with their chosen ‘book’. “They’re giving you an opportunity as a reader, to ask the hard questions. Asking questions to people who you wouldn’t regularly talk to on a regular basis,” he added. “To be able to empathize, or realize, that ‘Hey guys, my problems might not be as big — or you’re also realizing that, their problems are real… And be able to realize we can all have something better to offer the world.”

A Refugee & Living with a Hidden Disability

Regina Gordon and Hthamay Paw both serve on the local chapter’s board, and are also ‘books’ themselves. Paw was born in war-torn Burma, and grew up in Thailand as a refugee. After a decade, her family was finally able to move to America — settling first in Atlanta, Georgia. “Coming here from Thailand wasn’t really a struggling thing for me, because I was still a kid,” she said. “But for my family it was, because of the language barrier, the new lifestyle, and the new culture.” Friends of the family recommended they move to a place that would feel more like home: Fort Wayne, Ind. The highly populated Burmese community put Paw’s family at ease, but as she grew, so did her work. “I take on responsibility to make sure my siblings are going to school, registering, help them with their homework, make sure that they have activities,” she told us. “I take responsibility with my parents. I help them with interpretations, with transportation, filling out paperwork — anything they needed to help close that gap.” Incredibly, during that time period, Paw also got a job and education. Several years ago, she was approached by the founders of the Human Library Fort Wayne, to share her story. With little confidence in her English, and an introvert, she timidly agreed. “Sharing story in my community — Karen and Burmese community, is considered a shameful act,” Paw shared. “I want to be someone that gives someone opportunity for the youth to know that it is not. It’s okay to share the struggle, and to seek help.”

Gordon on the other hand, has battled most of her adult life with an invisible illness. “My story is in reference to a hidden disability. It stems back from 1994, when they discovered I had a medical mystery,” she said. “This disease is called sarcoidosis… it is an inflammatory condition. It affects the body. It’s systemic.” Gordon says the only visibility for doctors of sarcoidosis, is when it affects the skin — which varies from person to person. She has to travel to Cleveland to get experienced doctors to help her navigate the condition, which has no cure. For the last three years, she’s been getting routine IV treatments to help curb the disease. “You never know when it’s going to affect you. You never know when you’re going to have a flare,” she explained. Despite its sometime’s crippling impact, Gordon remains passionate about spreading awareness. She organized a local support group in Fort Wayne, and uses the Human Library to help connect with other people. It brings her joy to share her story — which she says is still being written, a chapter at a time. “It’s time people stop using stigmas, and stop judging people on different things. It’s time to un-judge,” Gordon continued.

How to Become a Library Patron

The Human Library Fort Wayne often holds events, and ‘books’ can be checked out as often as they run. Organizers hope those who visit have open minds towards those sharing their stories of prejudice, stigma, and stereotyping, while challenging assumptions. Upcoming events include:

  • Sept. 24 (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) at Lakeside Park Pavilion #2
  • Nov. 5 (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) Franke Park Pond Pavilion

You can find more information on their website here.