This post was written by Gloria Kirkland-Holmes and NCTE member Tiffany A. Flowers.
“It is important for all of us to see ourselves in books.”
—Dr. Jerrie Cobb Scott, founder of the African American Read-In
Sustaining a long-term African American Read-In takes a commitment to excellence, committed volunteers, university support, community commitment, and space to host the event. It also takes at least 3–6 months to plan, promote, and execute the program effectively.
Next year’s celebration will mark the thirteenth year that the University of Northern Iowa has hosted a Read-In, and for the past seven of these years, it has been a special pre-conference event of the African American Children’s and Families Conference, also hosted by the University of Northern Iowa. This has helped it to become one of the largest African American Read-Ins in the country.
The African American Children’s and Families conference is a national conference with well-known speakers and presenters, and includes an umbrella of information for stakeholders working within the field of education—teachers, parents, extended family members, counselors, social workers, principals, law enforcement, and community activists. Among issues addressed at the conference are faith-based initiatives, the achievement gap, S.T.E.M., the digital divide, mental health, and disparities within higher education. The local conference strand of the conference includes partnerships with the community for performances, panels, and workshops.
During the pre-conference, the organizers, authors, presenters, and volunteers host an African American Read-In which involves a partnership between the University and the Waterloo/Cedar Falls school systems. First-grade teachers’ sign up their classes in order to participate in the Read-in. The first-grade classes travel to campus to hear a children’s author read their work. After that, they rotate around to a variety of sessions on topics such as math literacy, storytelling, hip-hop, S.T.E.M, hair braiding, etc.
This year, the Read-In hosted 854 first graders along with 400 family members, presenters, volunteers, and teachers. The participants reported that they enjoyed the experience and plan to participate in the next conference.
As we acknowledge the success of this year’s Read In and embark on the journey for next year, we celebrate the content-rich experience offered to the children and families who participate in the program. We look forward to hosting the thirteenth annual Read-In in Cedar Falls, Iowa, in 2019!
Gloria Kirkland-Holmes is an Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education at University of Northern Iowa. She is the University of Northern Iowa African American Read-In Organizer and Coordinator of the African American Children and Families Conference. Her research interests include Black Girls and Education, Children’s Literature, and Family Partnerships.
Tiffany A. Flowers is an Assistant Professor of Education at Georgia State University Perimeter College. She is an author of both children’s and young adult novels. Her research interests include African American Literacy, Literature, K–12 Traditional Literacy, Diversity Issues in Education, and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.