Read Something, Do Something | Read Woke

Inspired by books, Georgia students and school librarians take action to promote empathy, inclusion, and community engagement in this new initiative from Cicely Lewis.  

In the documentary The Pieces I Am, Toni Morrison describes reading as “a revolutionary thing.” Indeed, it is. Reading has the power to transform, empower, and elevate. Since its inception, the Read Woke challenge has been more than simply reading. I describe it as a movement.

That movement expanded recently with Read Something, Do Something, a student grant-writing initiative inspired by books. In partnership with the Georgia Library Media Association (GLMA), I also created new Read Something, Do Something grants for Georgia school librarians, and we just announced our first winner. Together, these programs show us the power of Read Woke in action.

For my student Read Something, Do Something project, high schoolers applied for funding through the Hershey Heartwarming Project’s Action Grant Program, which supports young people’s ideas focused on empathy, inclusion, and community engagement, with $250 awards.

When Jasmine Lopez-Sandoval, a senior at Meadowcreek High School, read With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo, she knew she wanted to do something to support teen moms. “This book is a mirror for me, because like Emoni, I am a young Latina navigating high school…It was eye-opening: I never realized how hard it is for teen moms. I want to help others in my school like Emoni and let them know they are not alone.”

Inspired by Emoni’s story as a teen mother struggling to keep up with high school obligations and pursue culinary dreams, Lopez-Sandoval submitted an Action Grant application to provide picture books, nutrition kits, and bookshelves for local teen moms. She is putting the funds to good use in the community.

Candace, another senior, was inspired by Angie Thomas’s On the Come Up to host a Social Justice Talent Show where students could have their voices heard about important issues. In the novel, Bri, a 16-year-old rapper, uses her talent to fight back after a controversial event at her school. In Candace’s event, students stepped, sang, danced, performed monologues, played the violin, and more, all in the name of social justice.

I also wanted to give back personally and support educators by creating Read Something, Do Something Grants for Georgia school librarians. This encourages programming and book curation that teach social justice using library resources. To select our winner, GLMA formed a committee of school librarians that reviewed the applications based on a rubric. I funded the initial $500 grant through a Facebook fundraiser and donations, and recipients receive a one-year membership to GLMA.

Our first winner is Holly Brown, media specialist at Carver Road Middle School in Griffin Spalding, GA, who is launching a challenge called the Eagle 7.

“The Eagle 7 is a list of books that I believe will build empathy and help students gain an understanding of the world around them. So many of my students have lived a relatively sheltered life, and these books will bring issues to the forefront that they may have not experienced yet but may in the future,” Brown says. The grant money will allow her to order multiple copies of each book so more students can read them and participate in book club–like discussions.

Her list includes Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes, The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden, Front Desk by Kelly Yang, Starfish by Lisa Fipps, Efrén Divided by Ernesto Cisneros, Refugee by Alan Gratz, and New Kid by Jerry Craft.

There are so many other books that can empower our readers to take action.Why We Fly by Kimberly Patrice Jones and Gilly Segal, Kneel by Candace Buford, Internment by Samira Ahmed, and Running by Natalia Sylvester are just a few.

It is great to be able to highlight the work that is being done. I hope this can inspire others to Read Something—and then Do Something.

Cicely Lewis (Twitter: @cicelythegreat) is a media specialist at Meadowcreek High School in Norcross, GA.

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