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Being a member of African American Leadership Council, we often talk about issues within our community and how we can come together to solve them. When I first learned about the alarming rate of literacy among African American youth, I was shocked. Through the council, I was introduced to Real Men READ-y: a program that pairs professional African American men to read and mentor young African American male youth who are at-risk.
My goal was to inspire a child, to guide them on their path and to help them find their voice using the vast world of literature.
“Reading doesn’t just help with learning, it allows you to become independent, a critical thinker and further your creativity.”
On a Wednesday afternoon, I drove directly from work to Pickett Elementary to meet my new mentee, a first-grader named Taye. I went into the school building, book in hand, strolling down the waxed tile floor to Taye’s classroom.
I knocked on the door with butterflies in my stomach; this was the first time I ever mentored a child… I had no children of my own. I informed the teacher that I was there to read with one of his students.
He called on Taye and the young man put his pencil and paper into his desk, and walked slowly to the door.
“Hello, I’m James! It’s nice to meet you,” I said, as I reached out to shake his little hand.
“Hi… I’m Taye.” He was not interested and softly shook my hand. I took no offense, though. When I was a kid, I would have behaved the same way if someone new was visiting me at school to read a strange book.
When we reached the library, a few other children were inside with their mentors and Taye waved to his friends. He seemed a bit more open and comfortable when he realized he wasn’t alone.
“Do you like to read, Taye?” I asked.
“No,” he said and looked down, “I don’t like it, it’s boring…”
“That’s okay, there are many books in this library and we have a lot of time together. I’m here to help you with your reading.”
I was still nervous as Taye sat quietly; he was a shy kid. Regardless, I opened my book and began reading aloud and pointing to the pictures as we started our session.
For the next couple of weeks, Taye and I grew closer. We talked about what kinds of activities he was interested in, and I brought books to match. I told him about my time in college and how I liked to read about our ancestors, who fought hard to obtain an education. That’s why reading is so important…it allows you to see where you’ve come from, which helps guide you to where you’re going.
One day, he looked at me curiously and asked, “How come you’re always so dressed up?”
“Well Taye, I said. “I work in an office and have my own desk like you. I meet with important people throughout the day. Kind of like your uniform, my suit is my ‘work uniform.’”
“I don’t like uniforms,” he said.
“I’ll tell you a secret. I didn’t either, but I actually like wearing dress clothes. Sometimes, it’s a really nice feeling to be put-together,” I said with a smile.
On another bright Wednesday afternoon, weeks after my conversation with Taye, I walked down those same hallways to Taye’s classroom. He jumped out of his seat and excitingly ran out the door with a dress shirt and an oversized tie on.
“What’s going on little man? Why are you dressed up today?” I chuckled.
With shining eyes and a wide grin, he said, “I wanted to be just like you Mr. James! What are we reading today?”
This moment brought tears to my eyes. I knew that I had made an impact in a child’s life.
When we reached the library, he actually asked to pick out the book. With no hesitation, he quickly opened to the first page and began reading, with that same energy and love I had as a child.
*This blog post is fictional but based on a real success story submitted by Real Men Read-y. All identities of submitted success stories are anonymous for privacy and story details have been added in order to provide a better understanding of the individual’s personal successes and struggles.