Dawes students listen as ETHS staff and students read book on Black empowerment. (Photo by Adina Keeling)

Under dim lights, in front of an auditorium of fifth graders, Evanston Township High School student Olivia Stevenson read aloud.

“The freedom to express yourself is yours,” she read from the book “Hey You! An Empowering Celebration of Growing Up Black” by the British-Nigerian author and illustrator Dapo Adeola. “Express your culture and heritage – even if it makes some people uncomfortable.”

Stevenson, along with classmates Alyssa Flowers, Solomon Taylor, Jaques Phillipe, Caitlyn Flowers and Francisca Taylor, spent the morning of Feb. 22 reading books about Black joy and empowerment to second-, fourth and fifth-graders at Dawes Elementary School.

Following the reading, ETHS students led a round of trivia, asking students questions like, “Which Black artist sang the song Respect?” and “What did Rosa Parks refuse to do?” The event wrapped up with a question-and-answer session in which Dawes students could ask the high schoolers anything.

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Titled “Meaningful Conversations for Black History Month – A Partnership Between District 202 and District 65,” the event brought together students from both districts in a celebration of literacy and Black History. 

“Reading is just a great way to open the door between both of our districts,” said Denise Clarke, ETHS Director of Student Activities and a member of the District 202 Black History Month Committee. 

The ETHS students also read aloud to students at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Literary and Fine Arts School and Walker Elementary School earlier this month. In addition to the students who read aloud at Dawes, students Joseph Salgado, Sabene Uwazie, Andreana Moore and Ashlee Hutchinson read to elementary students. 

Joseph Salgado and Evan from King Lab demonstrate why representation matters. (Photo via ETHS Black History Month committee)

This was the partnership’s first year, and the goal next year is to visit all the elementary schools, said Clarke.

Clarke and the other committee members – Student Success Center Specialists Terrance Stevenson and Erica Gardner – organized the read-aloud after brainstorming ways to engage students from both districts while promoting Black History Month. 

It is so impactful for elementary age students to see older students read books, and to engage with older students who look like them, said Gardner. 

In minority communities, reading is sometimes a challenge, said Stevenson. “Encouraging young people to develop a love for reading early helps expand their imagination,” she added.

All ETHS committee members attended the event, along with Assistant Superintendent/Principal Marcus Campbell, Director of Academic Supports Kiwana Brown and Literacy Lab Co-Coordinator Philinda Coleman.

A handful of ETHS staff also read aloud to the students. Brown and Campbell read “All Are Welcome” by Alexandra Penfold and Coleman captivated a room of second-graders with “The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read” by Rita Hubbard.

Philinda Coleman reads “The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read” by Rita Hubbard.

Many of the books selected centered around Black joy, which was the theme for the ETHS Black Student Summit, an event in the school’s Social Consciousness Series that includes a series of workshops and events addressing racism and creating welcoming spaces.

Black History Month Committee members and participating ETHS students also wore the T-shirts they received during the student summit. 

ETHS student Alyssa Flowers said she really enjoyed the event and was impressed by how knowledgeable the Dawes students were.

“I had a lot of fun because I like interacting with kids and promoting literature in other classrooms,” Stevenson added.

Adina Keeling

Adina Keeling is a photojournalist and reporter, covering city news, sustainability, schools, and art. She also investigates mental health systems and environmental injustices in Evanston, and puts together...

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