Q. What inspired you and your wife to hold the first book fair?
A. In 1987 we were inspired to host a book fair to promote literacy among the young people of Boston. Since my wife and I are the proud parents of four children, we understand the importance of children having access to books and other reading material at the earliest age.
Q. How were you able to collect the books to give away?
A. Initially we relied upon the generosity of individuals to donate new and used books to distribute. Arthur Curley, President of the Boston Public Library that year, agreed to contribute to our efforts approximately 200 books that otherwise would have been discarded. We also placed empty boxes throughout the community and City Hall to collect donated books. That year we raised more than 800 books. As the years progressed we also recruited many corporate sponsors.
Q. What has been the growth over the years in the number of people attending?
A. We hosted our first book fair on February 28, 1987, with approximately 150 participants at the Codman Square Library. We quickly outgrew that venue which accommodates 140 people. In 1988, we had 200; 1989, 250; 1990, 350; 1991, 400; 1992, 450. Last year more than 1,500 people crowded the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge in Grove Hall, and this year we had almost 2,000, including 100 volunteers.
Q. What have you done to induce older students to visit the book fair to get free books?
A. We invited teenagers and young adults to provide entertainment and to serve as volunteers. We also utilize billboards, flyers and Public Service Announcements on local radio stations such as 106.1 FM to target this audience. I believe that our schools and families must also do more to promote literacy among our children, especially our teenagers. Too many are dropping out of school. Too few are going to college. We must provide more role models and resources to our young people to inspire them to assume more responsibility for their own education.
Q. You have become recognized as a great proponent of the importance of reading. How important is it for students to be good readers?
A. It is impossible to overstate the importance for all of our students to be good readers. Virtually every aspect of their lives is impacted by how well or poorly they read. This year’s theme: BE INSPIRED…READ! is meant to encourage our community to know that we have the power to change our lives by becoming more educated. We placed billboards throughout Dorchester and Mattapan with that theme and photos of books featuring Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama. Each of these leaders was well educated and succeeded, in part, because they had gained an understanding of the world and how to fight to change it. Encouraging children to read not only bolsters their vocabulary, academic achievement and future career opportunities, but also their ability to lead. Literacy is the key to success.
Q. Studies by the National Assessment of Education indicate that 60 percent of eighth graders reading at or above the proficient level read at least once or twice a week on their own. What can be done to motivate more minority students to read?
A. I believe that we can motivate more students of color to read by providing them with more reading material, improving our school facilities and providing opportunities for them to read to and mentor younger children. Most of all, we must stress to our young people that their future is in their hands, and they must take responsibility for their education. They should learn about their history and the struggle of their ancestors, as well as the biographies of successful people of color today. I believe that these stories will motivate our students to read more.
Q. According to the recent results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress Exams, there is a national disparity between the scores of blacks and whites. What can be done to close the gap?
A. The achievement gap should be renamed the “access to quality education gap.” We can begin to close that gap by improving opportunities for African Americans so they have the same access to educational facilities and resources as their suburban white counterparts. The national disparity between the scores of blacks and whites is the result of decades of insufficient and inadequate education and low expectations of black students by teachers and society. While some progress has been made, I believe that we must increase the number of African American teachers, administrators and principals in the Boston Public Schools.
Q. To what extent do you think that difficulty with the heavy reading load causes black students to fail in college?
A. Many black students are not proficient in reading by the time they enter college. The lack of a challenging secondary education creates a serious challenge to any student when facing a heavy reading load. Our annual book fair is meant to flood our community with thousands of books to encourage our young people to develop a love of reading and to prepare them for success in college and beyond. Since 1987 we have distributed more than 450,000 books to thousands of families. We believe that this annual event has helped raise the literacy rate of our community.