Latoya West-Blackwood, director of special projects at the Book Industry Association of Jamaica (BIAJ) says that “Jamaica and the Caribbean region are facing a crisis in education where reading levels have worsened over the past three years.”
Despite the crisis, she is hopeful. “I believe we can overcome this challenge. However, no single person, organisation or government can do it. It will take truly unprecedented levels of collaboration starting in homes and communities,” she said.
One of West-Blackwood’s approaches to overcome this challenge is by celebrating the work of initiatives that continue to encourage and empower children and adults alike to read more, hence the BIAJ Literacy Hero Award.
“The concept of a literacy hero is far from new. There are many similar awards globally. I conceptualised the BIAJ’s Literacy Heroes Award to fill the local void that became very evident during the pandemic,” said West-Blackwood.
The idea for such an award came after her involvement in advocacy and community development work through local reading and literacy initiatives.
She spoke of the BIAJ flagship event, the Kingston Book Festival (KBF) which was cancelled in 2020. Prior to its cancellation, the event was used to engage schools and communities around reading for leisure, to connect Jamaican authors to audiences, and build capacity across the book industry in Jamaica.
“When our usual KBF work was no longer possible [due to COVID-19], we partnered with the GrassROOTS Community Foundation, led by Dr Janice Johnson Dias to meet people safely, where they were. What started as a challenge, turned into a blessing. While everyone else was rightfully focused on the other essentials such as food, medicine, and sanitation, we focused on keeping children reading,” West-Blackwood said.
West-Blackwood also mentioned an Education Week Book Bag initiative. She said: “It allowed us to meet the most amazing teachers, volunteers, and parents who were working in very challenging conditions with limited resources to support remote learning and to give children hope through access to books,” she said.
West-Blackwood said that she was moved, through initiatives such as those, to find a way to recognise and reward similar efforts. When her fellow BIAJ directors and members endorsed her idea, plans were put in place to start the Literacy Heroes initiative and all other activities to come out of the initiative, including plans for the inaugural BIAJ Literacy Hero Awards.
After sharing the concept with some local corporate entities and failing to find a partner, teen literary activist, Marley Dias, lobbied the National Education Association (NEA) and secured financial support to help make West-Blackwood’s dream a reality.
Today (March 8), the BIAJ will present their first set of Literacy Heroes Awards to the inaugural cohort.
The inaugural cohort of the awards consists of Simone Sobers of The Winsome Wishes For Kids Foundation, Rachael McDonald of ‘Di Cawna Library’, Kirk Scarlett of I-Nation Books and Necessities, and Marion Carter & Luca Phillips of This Boy is Booked.
“These four were selected for a few primary qualities. They are, islandwide impact (not limited to a single parish), potential to scale project with strategic mentorship and funding, being aligned with sustainable development goals (SDGs) 4 and 11 [promoting access to quality education for adults and children to contribute to sustainable and peaceful communities], and having measurable impact on intended beneficiaries,” she added.
“We have to mobilise the literacy space, find the people who are reaping success, who are committed and motivated and highlight their projects so they can scale and get well needed support,” she said.
INAUGURAL COHORT FOR BIAJ LITERACY HEROES
Here are the four awardees!
Rachael McDonald – Di Cawna Library
Di Cawna Library is located in Rose Town, on the corner of Duff & Moore Streets in South St. Andrew. The project is led by Rachael McDonald, a trained educator and early childhood specialist. Di Cawna was designed to support Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) number 4 and 11, and promotes access to quality education, for adults and children to contribute to sustainable and peaceful communities. The initiative was birthed out of consultation with key community members who expressed a desire for support to elevate the literacy rate among the children and adults.
The project is now expanding into other communities, as the model has successfully worked in Rose Town and benefited surrounding communities. There are plans to launch new ‘Cawna’ libraries in Montego Bay, Bull Bay, and Treasure Beach this year.
They may be found on Instagram @ForTheFUNJa.
Kirk Scarlett – I-Nation Books and Necessities
I-Nation Books and Necessities was initially created as a mobile Pan-African bookstore two decades ago after founder, Kirk Scarlett was unsuccessful in his search for Pan-African literature in local bookstores. His passion for inspiring change in the youth in his community led him to using the power of books to make a difference. Today, he has built a successful social impact business selling and donating books annually. His most recent donation was a batch of financial books to the beneficiaries of a financial literacy forum hosted by NATTY Platforms and Stocks on The Rocks in Tivoli Gardens.
I-Nation also launched a reading programme for children at Devon House where celebrities volunteer their time to read and reason with the guidance of volunteer host by Dr. Amina Blackwood Meeks.
Find I-Nation @ination_books_necessities on Instagram
Simone Sobers – The Winsome Wishes For Kids Foundation
The Winsome Wishes For Kids Foundation (WWFK) has worked to assist struggling learners as a core part of its mission. Inspired by her late sister Winsome, Sobers set out to serve the local community of Jamaican children living with intellectual disabilities. The Winsome Wishes For Kids Foundation focuses on equipping teachers with innovative tools to match students’ various learning styles, and most importantly, provide access to literature to nurture a positive relationship with reading. Through strategic partnerships and with the support of donors, the foundation has partnered with eight schools islandwide and donated 235 books, directly reaching 105 students.
WWFK may be found @wwforkids on Instagram.
Marion Carter & Luca Phillips – This Boy is Booked
Marion Carter and her son, Luca Phillips started an online community on Instagram (@thisboyisbooked) where they share their love for books and reading with their followers. The initiative started when Carter began sharing, on her personal Instagram page, books that her son was reading. The books shared were deliberately chosen to reflect Caribbean culture, history, and experiences that Carter wanted Phillips and other children to relate to. Today, the page is a growing resource for parents, educators, or anyone who wants to easily identify fun and educational books with positive cultural representations.
Connect with Marion and Luca on Instagram at @thisboyisbooked.
Send feedback to [email protected]