“Can I keep these books?”
This turned out to be the most asked question during William Hall’s visit to Memphis, TN. during the Acts of Love “Love Young People” book tour throughout the summer.
More than just having access to books, the shock was being able to call these books their own, to have forever – a rarity in under-served communities.
“It just rippled and it’s like ‘wow’”, says William. “You look in a child’s face living in what could be a third-world country and their response was, ‘Can I keep these books’?”
With his Acts of Love movement, William, a Chicago southside native and pastor who is dedicated to serving those in need, along with his team are becoming advocates for poverty and its effects on literacy. The mantra, ‘Loving Young People’ brings together families, community, and educational institutions by offering a hand, heart, and an endless supply of books. The next phase in process is the “Family Literacy Academy” where Will and Beidler Elementary school Principal, Charles Anderson, teamed up to provide monthly literacy resources for students and parents.
The “Family Literacy Academy”, launches on March 29th and will provide free breakfast, family literacy techniques that will encourage parents to read with their child more often at home, along with a host of family fun exercises and activities, one Saturday during the months of March- April and September – October.
“The first two things we do in the academy is provide food; so we nourish their bodies and then we have fun,” states Will. “Most people fail to realize that food makes things a little bit more comfortable. Most people are hungry and most people want to have some fun.”
During the last hour of the three-hour sessions, parents focus on how to communicate with their child while the students are taught reading strategies and how to comprehend content.
“Books can help someone disperse their mind. Without liberating minds, you can’t regulate the mind and your way of thinking,” the youth mentor believes.
Beidler Elementary was one of the schools threatened and then saved from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 50 Chicago Public Schools shut-down in 2013, having braved the list in 2011, the institution continues to work toward high achievement and student progression. Principal Anderson is an advocate for young people and wanting them to succeed beyond their circumstance. He is one who provides resources and aligns Beidler and its 426 students, 16 percent of whom are homeless, with opportunities to acknowledge their potential and work toward being an upstanding citizen in society.
Will says of Anderson, “So many of the students in that school are struggling to get by. Mr. Anderson makes sure that every student has a shot and a chance of a good life and becoming somebody.”
Acts of Love is on a mission to awaken minds and get youth off of the streets and into embracing a positive future. The organization leads with action. The mobile book tour, where Hall travels to various cities has given away over 108, 000 books to youth in the community and further highlights the importance of “loving young people”. Observing the lack and necessity of books in homes, Will and his team also build home libraries, which is currently extending to libraries in barbershops such as Powell’s Barbershop on 63rd and Racine in the Englewood neighborhood.
Will speaks briefly about a text he received asking for more books at the barbershop because they were running out. It is not rare to see a young man’s head ducked down, engaged in a reading while waiting for his cut. These are the movements that capture youth where they are and really make a difference. It’s not forced, it’s all by choice and well, there are times when youth need to know that they do have a choice.
He recalls another ‘wow’ moment during the book tour over the summer in Gary, Indiana where the scenery was desolate and absent of a church, but the hunger for literacy was undeniably present. William describes youth walking around in diapers, some in shorts and swing sets vacant of actual swings.
“You ask yourself why?” he lets out a heavy breath. “At the end of the day, we’re seeing a mass of young people that are struggling with poverty that are being forgotten about. 80 percent of young people living in poor communities do not own their own books. Every child should have access to books that they can call their own.”
There’s a power connected with literacy and understanding context. With reading education, your imagination is able to soar and your thinking develops which ultimately aids in self-elevation. With each book handed out to youth, whether it’s in the classroom or just a child hanging out on the streets, Will sees the hunger for mental expansion and an expressive release in today’s young people.
“What you see is kids seeing themselves as the characters in these books,” he analyzes. “You see this unequivocally spark of imagination when they get books and become the pictures that they see.”
There is a deepened relationship between poverty and literacy and how one affects the other. Building communication with young people, demonstrating a genuine care for their well-being and progression in life offers a great start to liberating their minds and showing them a world outside of what they have become accustomed to. Reading is allowing children to see themselves as doctors, athletes, and lawyers.
The Family Literacy Academy aims to be that bridge that connects family, community, and youth with education in a fun and creative way.
“We’re seeing up close and personal this hunger and yearning for free books and it’s endless.”
For more information and/or to take the plege to love young people in your homes and communities, visit www.millionactsoflove.org.