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To fight racist hate, Tops survivor and his mom collect a mountain of children's books

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Zeneta Everhart marveled at the mountain of Amazon boxes piled in the driveway of her friend Molly Hirschbeck's home Friday morning.

The boxes contained children's books about racism and diversity from donors across the country.

"I told you it was a lot," Everhart said to George Johnson of Buffalo United Front, who showed up to help her move the massive collection.

"You said 4,500," Johnson said.

"I think it's more like 10,000," Everhart said.

Everhart is the mother of Zaire Goodman, who survived the mass shooting May 14 at the Jefferson Avenue Tops Markets. A Tops employee, he was helping a customer with her groceries just outside the entrance when the gunman emerged from his car wearing combat gear and armed with a military-style rifle and fatally shot 10 people. Authorities say the gunman chose the location because he wanted to kill as many Black people as possible.

After the shooting, Everhart and her son started a book drive. They called it Zeneta and Zaire's Book Club, with a goal of collecting children's books that address racism, as well as Black history and culture. They started a wish list on Amazon.

They did not anticipate such a response.

Book Drive

Boxes of books sent for Zaire Goodman and Zeneta Everhart's book drive are stored in Molly Hirschbeck's driveway in Tonawanda, N.Y., July 1, 2022. The drive, which is focused on antiracist books, has resulted in between 8,000 and 10,000 books, Everhart estimated. The books will be held at Villa Maria College and distributed to schools and community centers. Libby March / Buffalo News

The books include biographies of Harriet Tubman, Barack Obama, Simone Biles and John Lewis. An alphabet book is titled "A is for Activist." There is a book called "Curls" about Black girls' hair. A children's book called "Born on the Water" is based on "The 1619 Project." And an illustrated book called "Change Sings" is by poet Amanda Gorman.

Books arrived from all around the country, many with greetings.

"Thank you for working to encourage people to have race conversations at an early age. We need more people like you in the world," one donor wrote. 

"Sending strength from a 4th grade teacher in Boston. What a beautiful thing you are doing," wrote another. 

"What an amazing thing you are doing! Changing an incredibly horrible experience into an educational opportunity for so many! I'm a teacher from Texas and this is one of my favorite books. (Thank you) for what you are doing," another said.

A friend and fellow staffer at Sen. Tim Kennedy's office offered to store the books for Everhart. They soon filled her house.

On Friday, volunteers with the Buffalo Peacemakers helped transport the boxes to Villa Maria College, where Everhart went and her son now attends. The college will house the book club.

After the racist mass shooting at Tops Markets on Jefferson Avenue on May 14, Zeneta Everhart and her son, Zaire Goodman, who was wounded in the attack, started a book drive. Their goal was to collect children's books that address racism, as well as Black history and culture. They started a wish list on Amazon and have collected about 10,000 books.

Forming a bucket brigade in the driveway, they filled Everhart's SUV, a minivan and most of a box truck. 

"It's incredible to just look at it," Everhart told reporters. "Every time I look at it, it gets crazier and crazier. My heart is full. We're thankful and appreciative to everybody who donated all these books."

After the shooting, she said she felt a strong need to act.

"I needed something to do to try to make the world a better place," she said.

And that's how they came up with the idea of books for children.

"This project is about letting people know that it's real. It's real. Racism is real," she said. "It's time that we start talking about it, and it's time that we start educating our children about it. The reason for the terrorist attack in my community was racism. My son, along with 10 other Black people were targeted because of their skin color. In this country. It's ridiculous. It makes no sense ... And for me, it starts with kids and education."

Book Drive

Zeneta Everhart addresses the media regarding a book drive she started with her son, Zaire Goodman, in Tonawanda on July 1, 2022. Everhart and Goodman started the book drive after the May 14 Tops shooting. The drive, which is focused on antiracist books, has resulted in donations between 8,000 and 10,000 books, Everhart estimated. The books will be held at Villa Maria College and distributed to schools and community centers.

The books will be distributed to libraries, community centers, day cares and homes "so parents can sit down and read books with their kids that have Black children in them," she said. 

Goodman hasn't had a chance to see the giant stacks of books, his mother said. But he's seen photos and videos.

"Everyone sent all those books?" Everhart said her son asked, incredulous.

"Yeah, kid," she replied.

Her son wasn't able to participate Friday, she said. He was doing physical therapy, part of the recovery from his injuries. Goodman is healing well, physically and emotionally, she said.

The book drive has been a part of that.

"I just want him to see the good in the country," she said. "I just want him to know that there's love around him. This person ... this person isn't going to dim his light. I just want him to know the world is an amazing place. I know this is an amazing place because look what's behind me," she said of the mountain of books.

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Chief of the Breaking News/Criminal Justice Desk

I've worked at The Buffalo News since 2005. I previously worked as a reporter at the New York Daily News and the Charlotte Observer and was a special correspondent for the Los Angeles Times.

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