Photo by Adianna Alston.

By Adianna Alston | For AC JosepH Media

ATCO — Increasing literacy and highlighting the importance of reading was the goal of the New Jersey Garden City Alumnae Chapter of  Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. last month during the Fourth Annual African American Read-In (AARI) and Black History Month Program at the Bud Duble Senior Center.

The Education Development Committee of the chapter was responsible for hosting this program. Front Runner New Jersey spoke with Beverly Burgess, one of the organizers of the event, who provided insight on the inspiration that led up to it.

Reading has always come with a great deal of historical significance in the African American community. After the slave revolt by Nat Turner in 1831, teaching slaves to read was outlawed in nearly every slave state, with white slave masters understanding how powerful a tool that was to Blacks seeking freedom. Virginia went further, even making it illegal to teach free Blacks to read as well.

“We act as a host organization for the National African American Read-In which was started by the Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English to try to encourage communities of color to read together, centering around African American books and authors.”

This event was a reflection of the efforts of the Education Development Committee to further these goals and increase the level of literacy within the community. 

The day’s festivities included book readings of Black authors, various games and crafts, dance presentations, light refreshments, a raffle and more. People of all ages were in attendance, including Peter Ruggiero who brought his three young daughters Aya Ruggiero, Soul Ruggiero, and Nova Ruggiero.

Ruggiero shared his motivation in taking his daughters to this event and spoke to the importance of doing so. 

“I think it’s really important to show our young ones how important Black culture is and the important contributions Black people and Black society have given to our society,” Ruggiero said. “I think it’s important for our young girls to see that so they have role models to look up to and goals to strive for,” he said. 

His daughters also shared what they enjoyed the most about the program which included bracelet-making and coloring activities. 

Other community participants included a special appearance by Mayor Marie Lawrence who made history this past year after becoming the very first African American mayor of Winslow Township. 

Members of the Men of Color Alliance (MOCA), a student-led organization of Rowan University, were also present and actively engaging the youth. 

This event further served as an opportunity for Black owned businesses to receive exposure and support. Carolyn Thomas-Woods, one of the vendors present, has been involved in business for 40 years. She shared how she did not hesitate to drive all the way from outside of Baltimore Maryland to offer support for the program. 

“I believe in us and I believe that we need to teach our children history, even more now that they’re trying to ban so much of history from the classroom. I just believe that we can be anything we choose to be as long as we put our minds to it and work collectively. I don’t mind taking a drive to help anybody build us up as a culture,” she told Front Runner New Jersey. 

Burgess described her hope for this program and the impact it will have on the community. 

“I hope that families will continue to read with their children and that all people will begin to read together because when we read it enlarges our mind. I think literacy is so important because it impacts every area of our life.”

The Education Development Committee plans to continue to hold this event annually and gradually expand upon it. Members of the community are already looking forward to seeing what the program holds for next year. 

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