As a child, reading provided all the excitement I needed in my life. Instead of getting into the usual youthful mischief, I raided bookshelves for daily fixes of story books, poetry, and comics; squirreling away snippets of dialogue and clever phrases for later use.
It wasn’t long before I began to create my own stories. They were nothing elaborate, but these stories allowed to express myself in ways I had never envisioned. Words became my escape, taking me to places that transcended the poverty, squalor, and despair that surrounded me.
In elementary school, I would spend several hours drawing pictures and plotting stories to go with them. Although my teachers were frustrated by my short attention span, they never discouraged my writing efforts. My second grade teacher decided to cultivate my creativity by encouraging me to write a story to submit to the district-wide writing competition. I wrote a story about a fast horse that won a race. The story was accepted and earned me first place in my grade category. I was proud of my accomplishment until my teacher made me read my story to a class of fifth-graders whose writing skills left much to be desired. Needless to say, I was not popular among the members of that class. A couple of boys showed me how displeased they were with a few insults and several well-placed kidney punches.
After this scathing critique, I decided to abandon my literary aspirations. And I didn’t write a single story for years. It wasn’t until I entered high school that my writing fire was re-ignited. For some reason, I decided to read James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time. That book had a profound affect on my life. Here was a young black man experiencing the same things I was experiencing – the ravages of ghetto life exacerbated by alienation, confusion, and a feeling of hopelessness – yet he managed to pull himself out of the mire and become a successful writer despite the obstacles. I was determined to do the same. Kidney punches or not
I was fortunate because my mother instilled in me the importance of literacy. She made sure there were always books around even when there was no television. And when I had devoured every book in the house, my mother marched me to the library to restock.
The startling fact is that two-thirds of kids living in poverty have no books at home at all. But there’s something that can be done about it. I’ve partnered with Kellogg’s and Scholastic to help disadvantaged kids get the books they need. You can join my effort by doing the following things:
- Collect Kellogg’s Great Starts Great Stories codes from participating Kellogg’s products to receive a free book, or “gift” a book to a school in need, through nonprofit literacy organization Books for Kids. Go to KelloggsFreeBook.com to learn more.
- Visit www.Scholastic.com/MiniMissions to participate in Frosted Mini-Wheats “Mini” Missions and earn two free books monthly, as well as enter a sweepstakes for the chance to win Scholastic books and grants for local schools and communities.
- Leave a comment on this post and I will personally donate 100 new books to a randomly selected reader’s school or charity of choice – What book had the biggest impact on your life and why?
Actor Taye Diggs has also joined this effort to increase literacy. In this video, he explains how U.S. families can help give kids great starts with great stories by placing 200,000 books into home libraries, schools and local communities. You can also read Taye Diggs’ interview with Tia Brown at Jet magazine about his role as a dad in getting his son to read.
I encourage you to do you part to help increase literacy rates. Access to books can transform a child’s life just as they transformed mine.
Disclosure: I’m a paid member of the Kellogg’s #KChamps team.