Harlem Group Wants to Boost the Popularity of Reading

By Jeff Mays on August 30, 2012 3:52pm 

HARLEM — The Harlem education and youth advocacy group Total Equity Now is urging residents to flaunt the books they read instead of hiding them inside their bags or purses — and has declared the first day of each month "Literacy Across Harlem Day," starting Sept. 1.

The group got hundreds of people to participate in a July summer literacy march, while also collecting more than 1,000 books for two area literacy programs. Now, Total Equity Now founder Joe Rogers Jr. wants Harlem residents to get into the habit of being as proud of the books they carry as the stylish bags they carry them in.

"The logical and rational next step is to have more days in which you have community members  carrying books. If we have a built-in day every single month when we and our neighbors are thinking about literacy, it's a simple but symbolically powerful step that could build a critical mass," said Rogers.

The idea is that by seeing members of the community with books it will influence young people and adults about the importance of reading as well as normalize it as something that should be a part of everyone's life.

"Any trend begins with people doing something publicly and other people seeing it," said Rogers.

"We hope it will spark conversations in various places across the village— on the train, on the bus or someone sitting on the bench— and people will become Harlem literacy ambassadors." Rogers added.

Rogers first began carrying a book outside of his bag six years ago with the hopes of inspiring young Latino and black men. Harlem, because of the Harlem Renaissance, has a history of being a center of literature, said Rogers.

"We know that although many of our young people and adults are highly literate we have a lot of work to do. Too many of our young people and adults currently don't have the skills they need to fulfill their potential," said Rogers.

By getting people to take their books out of their bags, Rogers is hoping to change that.

"This can have a ripple effect beyond literacy. It can help to build partnerships and relationships to produce positive results in other domains," said Rogers.