Beyond the Hill

A Dartmouth student created a book database of stories written about and by people of color

Courtesy of Kaya Thomas

Kaya Thomas's app was launched in August 2014 and has since received more than 15,000 downloads.

When Kaya Thomas was in high school, she realized she couldn’t relate to the characters in the books she was reading. They didn’t look like her. They didn’t have the same experiences as her.

She told friends that she wished there was a resource for people of color to find books with characters they could relate to, according to Teen Vogue. Now a senior at Dartmouth College studying computer science, Thomas has developed an app to help connect elementary through high school students with a database of books about people of color and written by people of color.

“When I was teen it made me feel like stories about girls like me didn’t matter or that no one cared to write them,” Thomas told Bustle. “I didn’t realize that there were books that existed with characters like myself.”

The app is free to download from the iTunes store and is called We Read Too.

“Diverse literature is important!” states the app description on iTunes. “This application is a central location where books featuring characters of color are not located in subcategories, they are the MAIN categories.”

The app was launched in August 2014, per Teen Vogue, and has since received more than 15,000 downloads. It features nearly 600 titles, but Thomas told Teen Vogue she hopes to bring that number up to 1,000 by the end of 2017.

We Read Too is not just for children, Thomas said, but for parents and teachers who are looking for diverse books to read or give to their kids. It is also for people who want exposure to cultures other than their own, she told Teen Vogue.

“We Read Too features books by black, Native American, Asian, and Latino authors,” Thomas said to Teen Vogue. “I think fiction especially helps you get a better understanding of another person’s story, and that helps you build empathy.”

Thomas’ passion for empowering young women goes back to high school, when she co-founded a camp for girls interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, per her website. According to her biography, she was also a tech mentor for the educational organization Black Girls Code and a peer tutor at Dartmouth.

She has had struggles throughout her career, Thomas told Teen Vogue, especially as a young black woman in the technology industry.

“For me and for a lot of other people who are part of some underrepresented identity in the tech industry, one of the things that’s hard is that if you don’t know anyone in the tech industry or you’ve never been exposed to it at all, it’s incredibly challenging to get access to resources or people who work at tech companies,” she told Teen Vogue.

Thomas first started coding after she found a TED Talk by Black Girls Code founder Kimberly Bryant after the first quarter of her freshman year, per Essence.

“She talked about how we use this technology so often, but we need to be more than consumers; we need to be the creators of this technology that we love and use everyday,” she told Essence.

Thomas started an Indiegogo funding campaign to raise money to release an Android version of the app and work on a redesign, according to the Indiegogo page. The campaign reached its original goal of $10,000, and closed with a total of $15,985 raised.

After graduation, Thomas plans to move to San Francisco to work as a software engineer for Slack, according to Teen Vogue.

“It’s the message I am trying to display to the world,” Thomas told Mashable, referring to the app’s name. “We love to read, too, and want to see ourselves in the stories we read just like anyone else would.”

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