Meet Juanta: ‘Multicultural learning teaches us to see the world beyond our neighborhoods’

Juanta Griffin is the library’s new Multicultural Learning Coordinator. In weekly videos this summer, she shares the library’s Multicultural Collection, including artifacts like the djembe drum shown here.

‘I am passionate about multicultural education’

Juanta Griffin, a longtime Oak Park resident and arts educator, is the library’s new Multicultural Learning Coordinator. In this role, she explores and shares learning from the library’s Multicultural Collection, which is curated to help our community explore cultures and build empathy.

“I am passionate about multicultural education not just for children but for adults as well,” she says. “I strongly believe that racism is rooted in fear and that fear stems from ignorance. I believe that knowledge fosters understanding, and understanding promotes respect, and with respect we can work for peace. Multicultural learning teaches us to become global citizens, to see the world beyond our neighborhoods.”

Connecting cultures through new weekly videos

Juanta joined the library in mid-March, just as library buildings were closing and services were being put on hold in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “I’ve had to figure out how to introduce the community to the Multicultural Collection in a way that is engaging and respectful of the cultures the artifacts represent,” she says.

While it’s been challenging to not be able to physically share the collection’s artifacts, books, movies, and music with community members during this time, she says she’s excited to engage people through new weekly videos in the ongoing Virtual Learning & Fun for Kids & Families series this summer, starting Monday, June 15.

“The Multicultural Collection places the world in the hands of people that may not have the opportunity to visit foreign lands,” she says. “And it connects people of different cultures to their homeland. This is powerful and beautiful, and I am excited to study and share the collection with the community.”

‘If anything is to be said about me, please let it be that I serve’

Juanta has a master’s degree in early childhood education and has had many years of experience in management, education, and cultural programming, including in her previous position as a Child Development Specialist with Hephzibah Children’s Association. She has worked with kids of all ages as a choir director, theater director, and as a coach for the Oak Park and River Forest High School (OPRFHS) Speech Team.

“I wanted to work at the library because I love our village and the library is the center of the community,” Juanta says. “For three years I have organized the Oak Park Community Kwanzaa Celebration at the Main Library, and I have been active in other community collaborations here. The library has evolved and continues to meet the diverse needs of the community while striving to be inclusive and equitable to all patrons. I hope to contribute to that evolution.”

Juanta, who attended Longfellow Elementary School, Julian Middle School, and OPRFHS, says her interest in multicultural education is rooted in her own multicultural family heritage. She was raised in an Amerasian family; her stepfather immigrated to the United States from Thailand and her mother is a Black American.

She is very involved with a number of community groups, including the Oak Park Elementary School District 97 (D97) Diversity Council (DivCo), the D97 Multicultural Festival, and the Suburban Unity Alliance. She organizes the Uniquely You Tea Party, a social and emotional workshop for Black girls ages 8-11 that deals with racism, colorism, self-esteem building, and growing up Black in Oak Park. Among other volunteer projects, she organizes meals and donations for community members in need.

“If anything is to be said about me, please let it be that I serve,” Juanta says. “I asked God to make me a servant and place me in a position to give, and he has and that is what I am most proud of, not my education or my employment. It is important that I give back to the community that has given so much to me.”

Juanta and her husband live in Oak Park with their four children.

What are you reading, watching, and listening to?

“I recently finished partner-reading Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi with my 9-year-old daughter,” Juanta says. “She really appreciates the action and magic in the storyline.”

“I binge-watched Outlander until I ran out of episodes, and now I’m currently watching The Oval. I also bake a lot and rewatch old musicals. I am a big Hamilton fan. I can sing it word for word!”

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