South Bronx middle school gives out books by authors of color

Students get books by authors of color at the South Bronx Early College Academy book fair.
Courtesy of South Bronx Early College Academy,

As the country continues to be filled with racial tension and millions of kids are shuttered at home due to COVID-19, one school in the south Bronx has taken advantage of this opportunity.

South Bronx Early College Academy at 801 E. 156th St., recently launched an initiative to distribute books by authors of color to their students and hold virtual book clubs for the next month and a half. This program is being led by Principal Brian Blough, school board member Jodi Benjamin-Schneider, and teacher Melissa Gaspard.

Since and libraries and bookstores have been closed due to COVID-19 and the George Floyd murder sparked national interest in criminal justice reform, the educators wanted to create a program that could merge reading with social justice.

“I’m really excited to see how the book groups will give the students the opportunity to have conversations, analyze and understand the book,” Benjamin-Schneider said.

In June, Benjamin-Schneider organized a fundraiser with nonprofit Women’s Housing and Economic Development Corporation (WHedco) and raised $10,000. With that money, she purchased 2,000 books and on July 16, 17 and 23, held book drives where kids picked up as many books as they wanted. The books are listed on the school’s website so the students know what is available.

“The parents have been excited,” she said. “The parents have actually wanted to read some of the books.”

The first Zoom book club will be held July 28 and so far, there are discussions planned for 18 books.

The talks will be led by college students and volunteers and there will be ice breakers followed by open ended questions about the books.

According to Blough, while they did not know what to expect, the reaction from the community has been overwhelming.

“Everybody that walked into the room was impressed,” he said. “From a school aspect, we like the kids reading in the summer. They get really disconnected from school.”

Gaspard told the Bronx Times that word is spreading fast about the program. One student told her his friend likes what the school is doing and is interested in getting books if possible.

She explained many children are often glued to their phones or devices and this provides them something fun and educational to do.

“This book club is a small extension of what we have started at the school,” she stated. “It allows them to have a sense of empathy, patience and tolerance for someone else.”

Among the students who have taken books were eighth graders Aidan Speller and Darien Humphries. Speller, who was intrigued by the fact that all of the books were authored by people of color, has been trying to read a chapter a day. Humphries was drawn to the comic books and graphic novels.

Patricia Alvia has three kids, Jordan, Madison and Bridget who have all participated. When she heard about the program, she felt it was perfect for her children.

“They usually play video games, now they have books,” she said. “My boy couldn’t wait to read the books he got.”