March 16, 2018

Jasmine Africawala | Movers & Shakers 2015 — Advocates

Jasmine Africawala


Community Engagement Administrator, Dallas Public Library, Dallas, TX

MLS, University of North Texas, Denton, 2010


Photo by Charlie Nolen

Brain Changer

When librarian Jasmine Africawala sees a need among her patrons, she finds a way to fill it. She’s made a difference for Dallas residents earning their GEDs, learning English, or dealing with homelessness.

Changing lives starts with listening, says Africawala, Dallas Public Library’s (DPL) community engagement administrator. “We have to listen to our communities and then process what we hear into offering something different or new,” she says.

In Dallas, 26 percent of adults lack a high school diploma or equivalency, and patrons couldn’t find GED and English-language classes when the school district cut back. To amend the situation, Africawala found volunteers to transform DPL’s approach to GED and English-language learners. They taught classes and provided child care for students’ children.

Beginning in 2012 with ten volunteers at five libraries and 150 students, the initiative served 2,500 students this January, with 75 volunteers and 13 part- and full-time staffers offering GED and English classes at 13 locations. As a result of this approach, DPL opened an adult literacy center and the Atmos Energy GED Testing Center this year at the Central Library to serve 3,000 test-takers annually and offer scholarships for the $135 testing fee.

As part of DPL’s Homeless Engagement Initiative, Africawala worked with homeless patrons to develop programs aimed at changing both library staff and public perceptions about people living on the streets. Coffee & Conversation at the Central Library attracted 949 people in 2014. Hosted by a homeless library patron, Street View Podcast has reached 8,961 people since last March. Africawala’s impact on staff-homeless relationships showed in a recent staff survey with nearly 80 percent reporting changed opinions about the homeless since her initiative began in September 2013. The engagement initiative is expanding this year to the Oak Lawn branch. “Libraries…help people become the best version of themselves,” Africawala says.

This article was published in Library Journal's March 15, 2015 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.