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The Charles C. Yancey Book Fair gives out 20,000 new books in Boston

Kassmin Williams

The 27th Annual Charles C. Yancey Book Fair distributed approximately 20,000 brand new books to nearly 2,000 Boston readers last week at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center in Roxbury.

Titled “Reading is the Path to Success,” the event attracted old and new faces from the Greater Boston area, who conquered the sweltering heat to attend.

Book fair organizers were able to collect 50,000 new books to give out to children, according to Boston City Councilor Yancey who said leftover books would be donated.

“The whole point of this book fair is to encourage a sense of independent learning on the part of all the people of Boston,” Yancey said.

Yancey and his wife Marzetta launched the book fair in 1987 at the Codman Square Library.

“We had 200 people in a room that fit about 150,” Yancey joked to attendees during the ceremony.

Yancey said the fair started as a way for him to show appreciation for the city and was meant to be a one-time event.

Since 1987, Yancey’s book fair has distributed more than 500,000 books to more than 200,000 children and families, according to a press release from Yancey’s office.

“We’re hoping that the young people are building a library at home,” Marzetta Yancey said.

After outgrowing three venues, the Reggie Lewis Center became the fair’s new home three years ago.

“The fact that we’re at the Reggie Lewis Center tells me that the people in this community care about education,” Yancey said and called it inspiring to see children and parents take a natural interest in the book fair.

More than 500 people pre-registered for this year’s event.

Parents and families were grateful for the opportunity to receive free books.

While a ceremony took place in the center with performances by Unified Voices of New England, Four Stars Dance Group and RFKTA Quintet, children were able to participate in arts and crafts and face painting on one side of the track.

Cianna Jackson’s mother Arthenis Sneed and grandmother Dorothy Sneed described the 12-year-old as an avid reader who spends a lot of time at Barnes and Noble.

The family attended the book fair for the first time and appreciated the opportunity for Jackson to receive more books to read.

Dorothy Sneed said the opportunity for children to attend a book fair and receive free books is important for their development. “I think it’s good for the kids so they can understand what going on in the world,” she said.

Lysa Wigfall who attended the event with her 4-year-old great niece Makilah Holland said it’s never too early to start getting children interested in reading.

Wigfall called the event a gateway for parents to learn about the importance of literacy.

Among those who attended the event were students from the Garrett Pressley Autism Resource Center (GPARC). GPARC has participated in the book fair for the past decade.

GPARC founder Deborah Pressley said attending the event has helped bring awareness to autism issues in the Greater Boston area and brings a sense of inclusiveness to the students, who often feel isolated.

More than 100 volunteers assisted in the yearlong planning process for the book fair, according to Yancey.

Shirley Shillingford has been volunteering for the book fair since the first one and said the Yanceys’ dedication to the event keeps her involved each year.

“I just want to continue helping in whatever way I can,” Shillingford said.

Outgoing Boston Public School Superintendent Carol Johnson thanked both Yanceys and the team of book fair volunteers for working to improve literacy in Boston.

“It’s just such an inspiration to see so many parents, grandparents, cousins, sisters and brothers coming to get a book,” Johnson said. “The fastest way to learn to read is to have a book in your hand.”

Yancey noted that successful citizens often attribute love of reading as a contributing factor to their accomplishments.

“We have a responsibility as adults to inspire our children to read, to learn and to contribute positively to this society and this world,” he said.