Total Equity Now 'Literacy Across Harlem' book drive aims to spread word(s) to children in time for holidays

Total Equity Now 'Literacy Across Harlem' book drive aims to spread word(s) to children in time for holidays
Monday, December 10, 2012

By Douglas Feiden / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

The love of literature that fueled the Harlem Renaissance and inspired great works of art in the 1920s and ’30s is alive and well and being recaptured as the first Literacy Across Harlem Holiday book drive gets under way.

Customers in cafes, bakeries and bookstores, and visitors to three uptown community boards are being urged to donate new and “like-new” books that will be distributed as Christmas gifts to the neighborhood’s neediest kids and families.

Novels, memoirs, poetry, essays, textbooks, children’s books and other published works dropped off at 10 community sites by Dec. 15 (see list below) will be shipped to homeless shelters, domestic abuse shelters and transitional living facilities by Dec. 22.

“It’s about Harlemites making the holidays just a little bit brighter by delivering the great and empowering gift of reading to other Harlemites,” said Joe Rogers, founder of Total Equity Now, the educational advocacy group that’s running the book drive.

A former co-chair of Community Board 9’s Youth, Education & Libraries Committee, the 35-year-old Rogers in July organized a march to W. 135th St. to kick off the 14th annual Harlem Book Fair.

Then in September, he launched Literacy Across Harlem, an event on the first of every month in which readers proudly and publicly flaunt their books, holding them aloft to show their support for reading, writing and thinking — instead of burying them in handbags, purses or briefcases.

The idea is that Harlem should trumpet its fabled writers — poets like Langston Hughes, novelists like Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison — just as it does its world-class culture, entertainment and food.

Rogers says the latest initiative has a personal dimension. He lived for a time in a homeless shelter with his family and relied on churches and other charitable groups for food and toys over the holidays. But one thing was missing.

“I was an avid reader, and I don’t think I ever received a book,” he says. “They were generous, but reading materials and literature aren’t necessarily on the list of the things that charitable people give.”

That’s about to change.

“There is no better way of giving back to the community than to donate a book to someone who really needs it,” said Aliyyah Baylor, owner of Make My Cake, a bakery at 121 St. Nicholas Ave. that is one of the book dropoff sites.

Adds Janifer Wilson, owner of Sister’s Uptown Bookstore, who is collecting books at 1942 Amsterdam Ave., “A book is something you can cuddle up to in your bed, and it can take you to faraway places, and inspire dreams and imagination. I’m hoping to collect 100 of them, if not more.”

Emmanuel (Manny) Pena, who owns the Astor Row Cafe, at 404 Lenox Ave., with his wife Rose, says he has already received 10 books — which he believes can literally change the world:

“Getting our kids excited about reading and education is the only way our society is ever going to get better,” he says. “The idea is to pick up a book instead of picking up a weapon in the streets. It’s as simple as that: Don’t pick up violent habits, pick up reading habits.”

Drop-off sites for the first annual Literacy Across Harlem Holiday Book Drive:

Community Board 11, 1664 Park Ave.

La Casa Azul Bookstore, 143 E. 103rd St.

East Harlem Cafe, 1651 Lexington Ave.

Community Board 10, 215 W. 125th St.

Astor Row Café, 404 Lenox Ave.

P.U.S.H. Literacy Zone, 127 W. 127th St.

Harlem YMCA, 180 W. 135th St.

Make My Cake, 121 St. Nicholas Ave.

Community Board 9, 16-18 Old Broadway

Sisters Uptown Bookstore & Cultural Center, 1942 Amsterdam Ave.

Read the article at the NY Daily News