BY CHRIS TAYLOR, First-Year Communications Intern
Teresa Brantley, Media Coordinator for Durham School of the Arts, noticed an alarming trend in extra-curricular reading among middle school students: It seemed split by gender and race divides. While many middle school girls frequented the library and loved to read, she did not see nearly as many boys, especially African American boys.
Brantley knew she had to do something to encourage African American male middle school students to read. She had the idea of creating a special book club targeted toward these students, with the aim of encouraging them to read on their own.
DSA’s Language Arts and Social Studies teachers identified the students they believed would most benefit from such a program, and Brantley applied for a grant from Duke’s Doing Good in the Neighborhood employee giving campaign. The grant would fund books for the students, art supplies for book-related projects, and even author visits via Skype.
The grant was approved, and Brantley began working with a community service class at N.C. Central University to implement the program. Three students from the class were matched with DSA to help develop the project.
The book club got off to a successful start a few weeks ago. The group of eighth grade African American males began reading The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon, a novel about the struggle of the thirteen-year-old son of an African American civil rights activist in 1968 Chicago.
At a recent meeting of the book club, NCCU student Eric Hill recounted a scene from the novel involving overt racism by a store employee, and he asked students to share if they had any similar experience. Students quickly engaged in a discussion about personal experiences in which they felt singled out or judged based on their race.
“It’s all about that kind of personal growth,” said NCCU student Brandon Fisher of the books and dialogue offered by the program.
The NCCU volunteers recognized themselves the need for encouraging reading among young African American males, and they said they thought the book club was a great first step.
“We want to show them reading is not something you are forced into, but something that can be fun,” Hill said. “We want to give them the idea that there are books out there you can enjoy.”
Brantley said she is very satisfied with the life the book club has already taken within a short few weeks.
“We really want to promote the idea that reading is a social experience, not a solitary experience. We want to take literature beyond one person and an old book,” she said. “What if, afterward, they enjoyed the experience so much they want to read more and even meet on their own? We would have really done something amazing.”