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Past participants share their thoughts: Say it loud — I read and I’m proud!
Karl and Maureen Jones
Long before he attended his first read-in, Karl Jones always knew that he wanted to be a writer. “I’d been fooling around with writing for five or six years and had just finally moved toward writing poetry when my wife convinced me to join her at the read-in,” Jones said. “I was so impressed with the event that I went home and wrote poem number 36 all about the read-in.” Since that first read-in three years ago, Jones has written more than 85 more poems. He’s also actively sought out books written by African-American authors and books about African-American culture. “This event has really opened me up to new cultures, new ideas and new ways of thinking,” he said. “It’s made me realize how narrow a life I’ve lived. Now it’s exciting to see it open up! Every year, I’m even more excited to see something put together to help people read.”
Ja’Cedric Knight was five years old when he attended his first read-in at the Majestic Theatre. He had just learned to read in his kindergarten class and was excited about the opportunity to hear others read as well. “Between each reader taking the stage, Ja’Cedric would raise his hand, hoping he’d be called upon to read on stage with the others,” said Ja’Cedric’s mother, Felicia Cook. “His only reference point was his school classroom, and he was so excited about reading and showing others he could (read) that he was just begging to be called up on stage. He didn’t realize that the readers had been chosen previously. He kept telling me, ‘I’d like to read something, too.’” Ja’Cedric’s mother helped him organize a read-in for his family, then his neighborhood and his church — and, eight years later, Ja’Cedric finally appeared on stage at the read-in to share his own published poem.
When Barbara Record’s aunt, a former school teacher, came to visit from San Francisco, Record knew exactly where to take her — to the annual DCCCD read-in at the Majestic Theatre. Unfortunately, the lines were so long that year that the theater was full before they could get a seat. “We had parked my car near the front door,” Record recalled. “When the people helping with the read-in realized we couldn’t get in, they brought her some books and spent time talking with her. She was so excited about it all. She enjoyed every one of the books that she received, and we had our own read-in when we got back home.” Record’s aunt lived to be 104 years old, and she spent her entire life teaching others to read. “My aunt really saw the value of reading and educating those around you. She passed that on to the rest of our family as well,” said Record. “Since that trip with my aunt, I’ve been able to take my children (to the read-in), and they’ve been able to take their children. I hope we can pass it along to many generations to come. It’s always quite an experience. I’m very proud of DCCCD for doing this for our community.”
Yulonda Davis first heard about the read-in in 2000. She was given some basic guidelines and decided to hold her own read-in at her office. “We held our first read-in that year, and it was very positive,” she recalled. “But we’ve really built it over the last nine years, and it continues to grow and gain interest from others. It helps us all look at many different cultures and societies. It’s been a big eye-opener and broadens everyone’s perspectives.” As part of the read-in, Davis invites her co-workers to take part in a multilingual read-in, which is unique for their office. Co-workers pick a book and then take turns reading portions of the book in each of their own native languages. The read-in at Davis’ office also has birthed several other read-ins across the area, including the weekly read-in that’s held at The Bridge, a homeless shelter in Dallas. “This event really brings people in from the community,” said Davis. “I took reading for granted, but this has had a positive impact on many people’s lives and has given us a chance to share in other people’s stories.”
Raji Josiam and Madhavan Rajagopalan
While working with their church to explore the idea of teaching GED classes at the Dallas Day Resource Center, Raji Josiam and Madhavan Rajagopalan attended a read-in at Josiam’s office. The soon realized that formal classes would be difficult to offer to the transient population at the DRC, but they were inspired after attending DCCCD’s Dallas read-in. They quickly transitioned from the idea of GED classes and instead began a weekly read-in at the center in March 2007. “There were four of us from our church when we began. We took our books and met in a classroom at the center,” said Josiam. “We would read the books and then open the group for discussion. At first, many were a bit reluctant to participate, but the group really has evolved since then.”
In May 2008, the DRC was closed and the read-in was moved to The Bridge, the city of Dallas’ new homeless shelter. “We’ve now been moved into a more intimate setting, and it’s really helped people open up and share their life stories,” said Josiam. “They are able to identify with the stories in the books, and it helps them share their own life stories. We relate the stories back to their lives and, through our conversations, we’ve built some really great friendships.” Josiam said that the entire experience continues to be an eye opener for her and the team from her church. “We’re all very fortunate, and setting and listening to them as they share from their hearts helps me remember what really matters,” she added. “It all started with a very simple thing, and it has evolved into something so amazing.”
Yolanda Lewis has been attending the African American Read-In since it first began 10 years ago. While she always enjoyed the books and other gifts given to guests, she was particularly inspired by one autobiographical book that she received last year (2008), “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave.” As a teacher at Frederick Douglass Elementary School, the book quickly grabbed her attention. “I read the book, and it was so inspiring that I searched out another copy and shared it with my principal,” said Lewis. “She was just as inspired as I was.” Lewis quickly contacted the Dallas County Community College District and requested additional copies of the book to use in a school-wide read-in of their own. Teachers read portions of the book to their students each morning, and excerpts from the book also were read during the morning announcements.
“The readings sparked questions from all of the students,” said Lewis. “With the new-found knowledge of Frederick Douglass, the children took pride in their school and the man. The entire school now recites the Frederick Douglass creed during the morning announcements: “I believe — I believe in myself and my ability to do my best, for this day will not come any more. I will think, I will listen, I will read and I will write. I will do all of these things with one purpose in mind: to not waste this day, for this day will not come any more.”
Touching others’ lives and promoting literacy has had a profound effect on many participants like Ernest Johnson. Johnson attended the 2006 read-in with his wife, Latrice, and their two children after waiting in line unsuccessfully the two previous years for a seat at the annual event. The production that year featured readings for men and fathers. Johnson left the theater inspired. He also heard Ranger’s challenge to read for 20 minutes each day and to become a better reader.
He remembers, “At first, it was hard to schedule 20 minutes to read but, if she was right, my desire to become a better reader would come true. So I kept at it. The more I read, the better I got.” And Johnson told his story to others during the 2007 read-in. He proclaimed, “Yes! Now I can read, and I’m proud!”