Sofia Akel created a non-profit company called Free Books Campaign - dedicated to getting books by authors of color to those who can't afford them.
Sofia Akel, 28, often found herself lost in the books near the East London Library where she grew up. According to Sofia, this place "nurture my mind as a child." Akel, a writer and cultural historian, realized that not everyone had easy access to books and that many could not afford them. So she created a non-profit company called Free Books Campaign - dedicated to getting books by authors of color to those who can not afford them. Launched in 2020, it has donated 6,000 books to people across the UK and Ireland. "Reading shouldn't be a privilege," she says. Anybody can request a book they like. According to BBC, the company is funded by donations and can purchase the book for you.
"Reading should be something that everyone can participate in, the same way that most people would hopefully agree that education shouldn't be a privilege," she says, adding that she would not be where she is now if there was no library on her doorstep. "My worldview, my imagination, and my vocabulary would have been significantly reduced." The company is built entirely on trust and Akel takes great pride in it. "All we ask is that you can't afford or access books yourself," Sofia says. "I don't feel that anyone is in a position to tell another person whether or not their claims for affordability or accessibility are valid." She mentions that she knows what it feels like to be "on that other side."
Proud to launch the 'Free Books Campaign,' getting books by authors of colour to those who cannot access them due to socioeconomic, systemic and other barriers to access.— Free Books Campaign (@BooksCampaign) July 17, 2020
Following the fundraiser, we've raised a huge £1,652 so far! This next step is the fun part, thread: 👇🏽 pic.twitter.com/i2lxchqnPq
The Free Books Campaign started as a fundraiser to contribute to the closing of educational inequalities. Due to your incredible support, it has expanded & I hope to lead the campaign for the long term.— Free Books Campaign (@BooksCampaign) July 17, 2020
You can follow along on twitter:
@accessfreebooks or IG: @freebookscampaign pic.twitter.com/jSKsucwPMp
"Having these things accessible, where you don't have to jump through so many hoops just to get access to a book is important." To familiarize people with how everything works, Akel also launched the Free Books Fest in Peckham, South-East London - with Broccoli Productions, a media production company, where they gave away 3,000 books. The book festivals in the countryside are very expensive and make you spend a lot of money. "Everything was free," she says. "Literally everything. And then everyone was allowed to take home two books." Estelle, a biochemistry student, was among the many visitors who attended the book festival in Peckham.
The 22-year-old who came with her friends says these events should exist. "With the cost of living crisis at the moment, when I do have extra money, I would rather put it towards something else," she says. "And even though I love reading, I wouldn't be spending my money on books, as they wouldn't be that high on my priorities list. But with events like this, it means I'm still able to enjoy my passion for reading and finding new books." Estella did a mini haul and she is happy with her choices. "XX by Angela Chadwick that one sort of had a science link," she says. "And I chose Good Intentions by Kasim Ali. He was actually at the event, and I got my book signed." "I've never met an author in person before of a book that I've read, so that was very exciting."
Akel told The Bookseller that the "goal is for us to not need to exist." "With library closures, it’s getting harder for many to access literature. It would be great to live in a country where a government values education, and people of all class backgrounds, enough to close that gap and have a society where it’s not such a privilege to have access to books.” The company has also partnered with Macmillan Children’s, the Marcus Rashford Book Club and Vintage to broaden its reach.