NCTE’s African-American Read-In by Michelle Biwer
My coworker Eileen Foley-Breck is a retired English teacher and found information about a wonderful nationwide event series created by the Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English, called the African-American Read-In. The purpose of the Read-In is to promote diversity in literature and “make literacy a significant part of Black History Month.” It is as simple as hosting an event during the month of February where participants read works written by African-Americans. Anything from book passages to poems to song lyrics can be read at these events.
We hosted our library’s first annual African-American Read-In this past week and it was a great success. We did plan this program a little differently than some of our standard teen fare. When we started planning the program we knew that it might be a hard sell to get teens to attend on their own. Our library tends not to get great teen attendance for programs on weeknights unless we can offer service hours due to the busy schedules of the teens. Instead of relying on teens to come to us, we identified partners in our community to help us with the planning process and guarantee attendance at the event. We were lucky enough to partner with the Black Heritage Club at our local high school and the Housing Authority in our city. These partner organizations helped teens in their groups pick passages to read at the event and helped arrange transportation.
To kick-off the event, a local African-American Hip-Hop artist performed some spoken word poetry that he wrote. He encouraged the teens in the audience to write their own poetry, and his energy really set the tone for the event. Then the teens performed poems written by African-Americans that were meaningful to them. After the teens finished performing, our performer was gracious enough to stay and started running spoken word improv games with the teens. This was the most fun part of the night because he encouraged the teens to speak about topics that are important to them. Current events dictate that gun control and policing weigh heavily on the minds of these teens and they were not afraid to share their powerful thoughts in the form of verse. And of course the night ended with a rap battle that the teens wrote on the spot!
If you are interested in running your own African-American Read-In event, NCTE has developed a toolkit to help you get started. You can also list your event on their website for some extra publicity.
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About Robin Willis
After working in middle school libraries for over 20 years, Robin Willis now works in a public library system in Maryland.
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