By: Jeff Gallop, Florida Today
Sometime, during the rough and rowdy days growing up in the housing projects of Augusta, Ga., reading became less important to me than watching cartoons, hanging out with friends, and miming pop songs.
It didn’t go unnoticed by my mother, Beatrice, who took care of children to save money so that her own Bugs Bunny-loving son could eventually go to college.
One summer, she put me on the city bus, sent me to the nearest public library, and, in a firm, mission-driven voice, told me “don’t come home without any books.” I did what I was told. I discovered Stephen King, cookbooks, religious history and music.
Reading emancipated my mind and fired up my imagination about the world outside my window. And it became one of the most important components of my life as a journalist. I discovered Stephen King, cookbooks, religious history and music. Reading emancipated my mind and fired up my imagination about the world outside my window. And it became one of the most important components of my life as a journalist.
So as we prepare to celebrate Juneteenth, I consider it a true blessing to work with a group of dedicated community advocates who will distribute fresh new books to hundreds of Space Coast children of all backgrounds at Juneteenth celebrations Saturday in Melbourne, Cocoa, and Mims.
Through a three-month project dubbed “The Little Black Book Drive,” we’ve collected more than 2,300 books and reading materials such as activity and workbooks from our neighbors, friends, and supporters living in Brevard and beyond. Our hope is that the books will ignite or nurture a spark for reading in the children and provide a gateway to intellectual, and yes, financial freedom.
Mind you, this book drive came at a time when some were debating what children should read, while others in some of our communities were worried about their children being able to read. But statistics tell the story of why reading is so important.
Florida has a literacy rate of about 80 percent and numerous studies show a strong correlation between those who struggle to read and poverty, according to the Florida Literacy Coalition. It’s notable that Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Piellas, backs the New Worlds Reading initiative to provide eligible children with free, new books each month. Country icon Dolly Parton is also working to inspire a love of reading with her Imagination Library providing free books to young children. Reading better really does take a village.
Lynda Hudson, a name well known in the local community and someone with a career in media that took her from Cocoa to California, approached me back in March concerned that students weren’t learning enough Black history in our public schools. She thought about a book drive. Could it work?
I thought about the little 7-year-old I met last year at a literacy event, hair dressed in ribbons and bows. I asked what her favorite book was and she told me that she did not know how to read.
Also, I recalled the work of one of my community mentors, Sandra Pelham, a longtime community advocate who worked to help improve youth reading skills through the Connecting the Children with Reading program sponsored by the Melbourne-Palm Bay Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
Then came the name for the book drive, a play on words, and the four-month-long push with little fanfare to collect books for Brevard’s children. We asked that the books focus on Black history, science and even fictional works by authors who have fallen out of favor with our state government. To cement our mission, C.J. Harris at WWBC, a local on-air personality, and Sonya Mallard, the Cultural Center Coordinator of the Harry T. & Harriette V. Moore Memorial Park & Museum, joined our team to spread word about the drive. My wife Rolanda Hatcher-Gallop, who helped initiate the African-American Read-in at the Florida Institute of Technology, added her expertise.
Our group’s goals were simple: gather 1,000 new books through donations; practice Ujamaa (the Swahili word for cooperative economics) with donors purchasing books primarily through the Essence of Knowledge Urban Bookstore in Cocoa. We wanted children to become more familiar with Black authors and works about Black history. There are other books too, from Star Wars, the Hunger Games, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and more.
And we did it!
The Little Black Book Drive — with help from retired teachers, parents, attorneys, politicians, medical doctors, astrophysicists, journalists, Florida Tech students, Friends of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library, accountants and a couple of churches — achieved those goals and more. All books will be distributed to children of all backgrounds during Juneteenth celebrations on Saturday. Why Juneteenth? It’s a time now a federal holiday — that celebrates that late word of freedom that came to our nation’s enslaved Blacks back in 1865. There was a time in U.S. history when enslaved Blacks were forbidden to read, under penalty of law.