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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — There are thousands of books stored at Villa Maria College for Zeneta and Zaire’s Book Club. With each book, the hope is to turn the page on racism and open the youngest readers’ minds to diversity and inclusion.

On May 14, 2022, Zaire Goodman was working at the Tops on Jefferson Avenue helping an elderly woman outside with her cart when he was shot in the neck. He was one of three survivors.

In the days that followed, something beautiful was born out of tragedy.

“A lot of the people wanted to give money and they’re like, ‘Where’s your GoFundMe? We wanna send Zaire money,’ and I was like, ‘We didn’t start a GoFundMe,'” said Zeneta Everhart, Goodman’s mother. “So in lieu of a GoFundMe, we decided to start Zeneta and Zaire’s Book Club.”

Everhart and Goodman put together an Amazon wish list and asked people to buy books. Since the book club’s inception, they’ve collected over 18,000 books and counting, with Villa serving as the distribution hub.

“Zeneta is a force. She is going to change the world,” said Dr. Matthew Giordano, president of Villa Maria College. “Education is what we do so it was so heartening for me when Zeneta approached us about storing her books because she also saw education as her primary response and realized that education is the key to changing people’s hearts and minds and getting them to understand these very complex issues.”

“We’ve done readings at schools, at libraries, at community centers, we’ve taken books to daycares — so many people have reached out to us,” Everhart said. “For Black History Month, we did an amazing month-long program partnering with the Buffalo Bills and that was just amazing. We were all over the place and the kids lit up.”

The goal is simple: foster a new generation of compassionate leaders.

“For people who are not African American, it’s a window. These books are windows into the lives of African Americans and Black people in this country,” Everhart said. “For Black people, for Black children, those books are mirrors, which is extremely, extremely important. Representation matters. Kids who see themselves depicted in books, that matters.”

As they forge ahead on their mission to eradicate hate through the distribution of books, Everhart urges the young, curious minds to have the uncomfortable conversations, connect with each other and embrace diversity.

“Give people grace. Try to do your best to pick up a book, read about people,” Everhart said. “Come out from behind the screens and the games and stuff like that and actually talk to someone in your classroom who doesn’t look like you. They’re probably exactly like you are.”

Everhart and Goodman are currently looking into turning their book club into a 501(c)(3) — a beacon of light that will last forever.

“The world saw [Zaire] that day. They saw what he went through, the pain that was caused to him and the trauma that he’s gonna have to deal with for a long time. And to have people still today, almost one year later, still reaching out saying, ‘Are you still taking books?’ Of course, we’re still taking books. We’re always taking books,” Everhart said. “We want this to be someone’s job, to just deliver books to kids in the community, and that’s what he’s excited about; making sure that this is something that’s sustainable forever.”

If you would like to donate a book to Zeneta and Zaire’s Book Club, you can find their Amazon wish list here.

Tops Mass Shooting

Jordan Norkus is an award-winning anchor who has been part of the News 4 team since 2021. See more of her work here or follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.