"Read, Believe, Achieve: Yes We Can" this was the chant of nearly 1000 students from
Memphis City and Shelby County elementary and middle schools who attended the Kick-Off
Program for the 20th year celebration of the African American Read-In Chain at Rose
Theatre on February 5th. The founder and national director of the African American
Read-In Chain, Dr. Jerrie Cobb Scott, is professor of literacy in the ICL Department.
The African American Read-In Chain, a national literacy campaign that is sponsored
by the National Council of Teachers of English and endorsed by the International Reading
Association, has made reading a traditional part of Black History month celebrations
in over 38 states.
In keeping with the tradition of motivating the audience to read, Dr. Donald Wagner,
Dean of the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences, engaged the children
by sending a shout-out to each of the schools, followed by an interactive dialogue
on the importance of reading, believing, and achieving. In a spirit of gratitude,
the students, administrators and the teachers, most of whom were either alumni or
graduate students of the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences expressed
their renewed interest in working more closely with the College and its departments.
Stan Bell, a popular radio announcer at V101, a teacher at Woodale High School, and
an avid supporter of the Memphis African American Read-In Chain, stepped graciously
into his role as the Master of Ceremony, keeping the audience actively involved and
continuously motivated to not only read, but also to reach out and help others to
The featured author of the program, Nikki Grimes, amused the audience with some of
the particulars of the writing of her latest book, Barack Obama: Child of Hope, Son
of Promise, including the demands to compose the book under an amazingly tight publication
schedule. Ms Grimes read the book to a highly attentive audience that seemed to cling
to the tidbits of information about a President who has dominated the public attention.
"Now," commented one of the students, "I know Barry Obama as a child and as an adult."
Before and after the appearance of Ms. Grimes were several presentations that proved
to be informative, inspiring, and enjoyable. Major highlights of the program include:
- Campus School students read original poems as a tribute to Dr. Benjamin L. Hooks that
inspired all to not only read, but also to write;
- The melodic renditions of the Craigmont Middle School choir and band reminded all
of the significance of the shared aspects of music and reading for delivering messages;
- Karlos Nichols, a local actor, brought the audience to a standing ovation in response
to his delivery of Dr. Martin Luther King's Mountain Top Speech, a decidedly impactful
revelation of the transformative effects of skilled oratory;
- From Hooks to King to Obama, the theme of change embodied in the work of all three
took on new meaning with the song "I Know A Change Gon' Come," performed by thirteen
year old Takaya White of Craigmont High School. And the audience again rose to applaud
Takaya's musical gift and her engaging stage presence. Also soliciting a response
of admiration was SouthWind Middle School's eighth grader, Cortavious Caldwell's amazing
feat of remembering excerpts from the speeches of Barack Obama and delivering them
with the pose and conviction that one would imagine typified that of President Obama
during his middle school years. "It's a good thing," noted several teachers, "that
students have already begun mixing words of wisdom into strong, powerful messages."
- A special tribute to Ms. Nikki Grimes was presented by students from the Circles of
Success Learning Academy (COSLA) whose principal and many of its teachers learned
to teach literacy at the University of Memphis. With a touch of care and sincerity,
COSLA students presented a dramatic reading of "Four Candles," with the candle of
hope metaphorically representing the Son of Hope about whom Ms. Grimes writes. Ms.
Grimes also received the Imaginative Writers Award from the Memphis Black Writers
Conference, Mr. Lawrence Wayne.
Other awards included the Literacy Champion Award to Dr. Kenneth S. Robinson and Mrs.
Marilynn S. Robinson for their roles in establishing the first elementary Charter
School in Tennessee, COSLA with its literacy-focused curriculum. African American
Read-In Awards were given to founders and ongoing supporters of the Memphis African
American Read-In Chain, Dr. Angela Whitelaw, Mrs. Lucy Stansbury, and Mr. Stan Bell.
Acknowledged was special guest, retired principal Mrs. Gloria Snowden, who established
African American Read-Ins in Kansas City Kansas Schools over 15 years ago and who
attended our program in support of twenty years of the work of her childhood friend,
Dr. Jerrie Scott. Dr. Scott also acknowledged sponsors of this year's program from
The University of Memphis to the wider Memphis community, the UoM and LeMoyne-Owen
College student volunteers, and the AARIC Advisory Board, whose footprints through
the sands of toil and joy made this program a success beyond our wildest imagination.
To close the program, Dr. Scott introduced our mystery guest, the UoM mascot Pouncer.
Pouncer took photos and bidding the children happy travels back to their schools.
Not surprising, the appearance of Pouncer brought new heights to the spirit of reading
that this program was intended to pass on.
Please visit our website for more information on this program and the African American Read-In Chain.