Black Lives Matter Pittsburgh and SW Pa. hosts "Read In" event to distribute free books to children from underserved communities | Literary Arts | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Black Lives Matter Pittsburgh and SW Pa. hosts "Read In" event to distribute free books to children from underserved communities

click to enlarge "Read In" organizer Tanisha Long speaking at a BLM protest - PHOTO: DEVON HUGHES
Photo: Devon Hughes
"Read In" organizer Tanisha Long speaking at a BLM protest
About a month ago, Tanisha Long created the Facebook group Black Lives Matter Pittsburgh and SW Pa (BLMSWPA). With almost 7,000 members, the page is a local, unofficial Black Lives Matter group that represents Pittsburgh and the surrounding areas. Their focus is to "bring together activists and allies in order to lift up black causes, speak out, and cross societal bridges."

The members of the Facebook group were recently asked what they would like to see from BLMSWPA, and many felt that education was an area in which a huge impact could be made.

On Sat., July 18, from 2-5 p.m., children in the Pittsburgh area will have the opportunity to advocate for their present and future education during a "Read In" event at Point State Park.

"The Children's Book 'Read In' event was the result of a want to address the lack of diversity in youth reading materials and the disparity in minority literacy rates in comparison to their white peers," says Long. "When organizing activism efforts, many were cautious to bring their children out of fear of unrest and violence. … We want to bring attention to the many ways our current educational system is failing children of color. Instead of a 'sit in' we chose to do a read in and give the children books that feature characters and authors of color across all genres. We want to normalize diversity."

According to The National Assessment of Educational Progress, the average reading score for white eighth-graders was 272 (proficient is around 280) in 2019. The average reading score for their Black counterparts is 244. This 28 point score difference was larger than the 25 point score difference in 2017.

Long, who is also the driving force behind the event, organized a GoFundMe to raise money to purchase books to hand out during the "Read In." Estimating a cost of $10 a book, the original goal was to get 100 books into the hands of Black children in underserved communities, focusing on topics such as civil rights, diversity, black history, emotional management, and difficult conversations.

Now, after an overwhelming response to the GoFundMe and raising almost $15,000, Long and her team of volunteers will be able to
distribute hundreds of books to any child that shows up.

This event is open to everyone, with the books being geared to the K-12 age range," says Long. "Our focus is on children from underserved communities, however, if anyone wants a book and can afford it, we suggest a donation but it is not required in any way."

Books will be distributed at Point State Park, a location chosen to ensure
social distancing. Sanitizer and masks will be provided to those who are not prepared.

In addition to free books, the day will include adult readers sharing their stories with the children, speakers who touch upon education, and an open forum for those who want to share their experiences with the educational system.

After the event is over, any remaining books will be distributed to schools, community groups, Little Free Libraries, and given directly to children in need.

"I am genuinely excited for this event, as I did not grow up seeing myself represented in many children's or teen books," says Long. "I think that by seeing themselves in these spaces, minority youth will gain a sense of empowerment, and begin to insert themselves in spaces that felt off-limits before. The hope is that seeing themselves in these books will make them want to read more and help with literacy rates."

"Read In" Sat., July 18. 2-5 p.m. Point State Park. 600 Commonwealth Place, Downtown. Free.

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