COVID can’t stop community from coming together for a cause
Coordinators of the Black Men Read program haven’t let the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic sway them from their mission. In fact, they are more determined than ever to serve children, the community and uplift black men while making community connections along the way.
Book bags for children
Recently, they distributed 75 bags of books and activities to families through Ypsilanti Community Schools food distribution sites, and are preparing 25 more bags for distribution. The bags contain a book featuring a black story, a journal, crayons, BMR pencil, blank puzzle to add artwork, and scissors. They are made possible thanks to the generous donations of individuals and businesses and funding from the United Way.
Nuola Akinde, director of culture and curriculum for BMR, says it’s important for black children to see themselves and their communities in stories they read, as well as seeing positive imagery and have a positive association with black men. “We often talk of books being a mirror and also a window, so we need literature for children that reflects their lived experiences, but also shows them new ways to experience the world and new ways to think about the world.”
Even before the virus and social distancing took hold, the organization was busy making sure stories from the African Diaspora made their way to the children of Washtenaw County. Their goal was to get one of their books to every child in Washtenaw County in preschool to fifth grade. Thanks to partnerships with many schools, businesses, organizations and individuals, they are still trying to make that happen even as they shift gears to online engagement methods.
Akinde said now more than ever the Black Men Read organization is leveraging social media sites to get the word out about their cause helping them extend their reach across the country. Even with schools closed down and in-person events on hold, they are finding ways to connect with children and families through live and recorded Facebook reads by volunteer readers, a new Youtube site in the works and continued commitment from partners like Ypsilanti Community Schools, Black Stone Bookstore and Printing Plus United Sonz. Families can tune into Facebook reads live at 11am and 3pm every Friday on the organization’s Facebook page.
“I think people are still finding new ways to connect with each other,” Akinde said, “which for me is really inspiring and helps me feel hopeful that it’s possible for us to still feel loved and still feel like a community even when we can’t see or touch each other.”
Akinde, who is the mother of three children, ages 9, 6 and 2; and also the founder and director of the Kekere Freedom School educational organization in Ypsilanti, said it is personally inspiring to see the ways in which families are adapting to step in and fill the gap of education that is happening for their kids.
Carlos Franklin, co-owner of Black Stone Bookstore in Ypsilanti with partner Kip Johnson, says he is honored to be helping support the Black Men Read organization. Before the pandemic, the independently owned African American bookstore provided a place for BMR events and donated gift cards and books. In the current environment, the business is giving the organization a platform on their new website to share the Black Men Read book wishlist. While supporting the mission of BNR, people can also support the indie bookstore by purchasing other books through the website. They are offering free shipping for orders over $50.
Since the bookstore and much of the business community has been forced to close its doors, Franklin said, his bookstore is striving to continue to serve the community and he is encouraged by the way that people from so many different walks of life have come together to support one another.
“It just lets you know it’s a beautiful world out there if you put yourself in that circle of beauty. Sometimes people walk around with a certain mentality and they don’t put themselves in the circle of beauty, so they can’t experience it. When you’re in that circle it’s the opposite. You see more positivity and it’s like keeping hope alive.”
Franklin continues to keep a positive outlook. “I grew up thinking everything was 99 percent mental and 1 percent physical. The world is shifting to a physical concern but if we can just focus on that mental, we’ll make it through this alright.”
Area families can continue to look for updates on how Black Stone Bookstore and Black Men Read are continuing their commitment to community during the crisis and beyond through Facebook and their websites.
Find the Black Men Read wishlist and support Black Stone Bookstore at blackstonebookstore.com