It wasn't until she was a teenager that avid reader Kaya Thomas suddenly recognized the fact that the characters she was reading about weren't ones who looked like her.
"Realizing that made me feel invisible," she said.
With that in mind, her love for books, and need to expose herself and others to characters of color, drove her launch an app called We Read Too. Thomas, a senior at Dartmouth College, did her research and came up with a list of authors of color who wrote books that had characters of color at the forefront of their stories. With that, she combined her coding skills she picked up at a Black Girls Code hackathon with knowledge of how to use Apple's iOS at an internship to create a directory of 300 young adult and children's books.
Although the app initially launched in 2014, Thomas is constantly working to improve it. Since then, there is now a total of 600 books in the directory, and iPhone users can scroll through titles, find them at random, or suggest titles that should be added. They can also share their findings on social media and use the app to see where they can buy a book.
Thomas has also used her platform to speak up on the importance of people of color being able to identify with people who look like them in literature.
In an email to the Huffington Post, Thomas elaborated on her thoughts and discussed how readers of color should feel important and celebrated.
"When young people don't see themselves represented positively in books, TV, movies and other forms of media, that erasure really harms self-image and how you perceive yourself as you grow up," she said.
In late March, she started an Indiegogo page to raise funds to improve We Read Too and exceeded her initial fundraising goal of $10,000 in less than 24 hours. Now, Thomas is seeking to reach her stretch goal of $25,000. Funds from the campaign will be used to develop an Android version of the app, expand the genres a user can explore to get suggested titles, and improve its overall functions with the help of a developer Thomas hopes to hire.
So far, Thomas has received positive feedback from a wide variety of students, parents, and educators. When it first happened, she wrote about her experience and said, "I knew that if my app had even helped one person feel represented and [showed] them that their stories are being told too, I had done the right thing. This is why technology needs a diverse set of developers making software. We all have stories to tell and we all have communities we love, let's make technology for us and for those communities."
And when it comes to the authors she's including in this vast directory, Thomas wants her app to make them feel important as well.
"My goal for We Read Too is for it to be the primary directory that contains thousands of works by authors of color of various genres," she said. "I want to celebrate these authors and for them to always have a place where their work is celebrated and showcased."
Watch Thomas' Indiegogo video below:
(H/T: Huffington Post)