Summer Hot Reads

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Whether a parent or teacher, if you have had to spend more than 30 minutes in the presence of an adolescent girl, I’m sure you’ve heard these words…”I’m bored…” or “It is soooo boring…” or “It’s nothing to do…”

Well, there is no better time than the “nothing to do” days of summer to encourage our girls to lose themselves in a book adventure.

If getting them out of our hair is not motivation enough to put a book into their hands, perhaps realizing how an unfocused summer can pose a threat to their development will be the reason.

While it is certainly a time for leisure and relaxation, summer is also the season when children from disenfranchised communities experience a detrimental loss of learning. In fact, The Center for Summer Learning shared a report which states young people can lose up to 3 months of learning during their summer vacation.  Irrespective of income level, if young people are not as academically stimulated during summer as they are during the school year, they will not retain what they ended the school year knowing.

That alone is reason enough for me to compile a Summer Hot Reads reading list for Girls Like Me… that and my absolute love of reading. Now I admit, I have a selfish motive, too. I mean, for me there is nothing more appealing than sitting curled up with a book in my hand. I want so desperately to inject the reading bug into all girls…after all, I truly believe reading is power.

Still, not every girl will independently choose turning pages over uploading pics to Instagram, creating dancing vids for YouTube, giggling on stoops and porches with their friends, or hanging at the air conditioned malls. Yet, I am confident if we add some engaging, culturally relevant titles to their reading elixir, they’ll be captivated by stories that hold a space for characters they identify with and connect to.

So without further ado, here is the GLMPI Summer Hot Reads reading list (updated June 3, 2015):

5-8th grade

One Crazy Summer, Rita Williams-Garcia 

The Skin I’m In, Sharon G. Flake

Standing Against the Wind, Traci L. Jones

The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros

Ninth Ward, Jewell Parker Rhodes

Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina, Misty Copeland

Last Summer with Maizon, Jacqueline Woodson

Girls Like Us, Gail Giles

8-12th grade

Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson

Silver Sparrow, Tayari Jones

Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Purple Hibiscus, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Rayla 2212, Ytasha Womack

Ship of Souls, Zetta Elliott

Cornered, an anthology edited by Rhoda Belleza

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou

Upstate, Kalisha Buckhanan

Assata: An Autobiography

Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison

The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood

On the Line, Serena Williams

The Other Side of Paradise, Staceyann Chin

Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng

To make sure girls are getting the most out of their reading experience:

Have girls perform scenes from their book! Or record an video summary and upload to YouTube like like this one:

  • Reading is a great activity to share with you the girl you mentor! Make visits to the library a part of your engagement time.
  • And be encouraged to start a book club with a few of the girls on your block, or youth members of your church/community center.

Happy reading!

P.S. Please share any other hot read recommendations in the comments. Thanks a million!

More than tears for Heaven


I cried today, as I seem to do many times when watching local news here in Chicago. But today the sorrow is deep and far-reaching as news outlets around the country report on 7 year old Heaven Sutton, shot from a coward’s bullet while she played near her family’s candy stand on the city’s west side.
This hurts.  And it should hurt us all. Yet it does not as many have become desensitized.I think of what this young girl’s mother had in her heart for her baby girl to give her such an intentional name…Heaven.

Many will hear the story and not recognize their connection to little Heaven. Some will distance themselves from the tragedy either by virtue of their zip code, occupation, race and/or class. So often we believe if we just “avoid” certain areas and types of people, we will live to see another day. We believe that. Maybe there was a time when that was true…not today.Perhaps this is what pierces my spirit the most: The saved and sane amongst us have done such a thorough job of maneuvering the maladies of the ghetto like an elusive NFL  running back. We move out to suburbs; keep to the “safe” part of town; disassociate from neighborhood folks; enroll our children in “good schools”; socialize in trendy leisure watering holes; lock our car doors and roll our windows up then avoid side streets, taking the expressways to navigate point A to B.Still, left behind are the innocent ones just trying to live life they were born into and play where they live. You know, just being kids.

When I heard the headlines stating the victim’s name, age and neighborhood, I prayed it was not the precocious child I met just two days ago who’d enrolled in my summer program on Chicago’s west side, also named Heaven.  Even after seeing it was not her, no relief came to me. Only tears for Heaven.

Like my own daughter whenever we head to our home in Englewood on Chicago’s south side, little Heaven begged her mother to move from her neighborhood because of the violence. See she too wanted a life of affirmation. I can imagine her “when I grow up…” declarations. Not surprisingly, she had the dream of most children to visit the magical world of Disney. But we have robbed her, and so many other little girls and boys, of that possibility.

How are you included in the “we?”By simply ignoring the cancer eating away- infesting our community and families.

At times like these you want to sympathize and pity the victim’s family.  Spout visceral language, wishing ill-fate to befall perpetrators who snatch lives and run to hide like spooks. You want to point the finger and give blame a face and name, look anywhere but at ourselves.

Yet it was while watching the news, to my utter amazement I found myself nodding my head in staunch agreement with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who audaciously asserted, “This is not about crime, it is about values.” When further pondering who could shoot into a crowd near innocent, playing children, he searched out “Who raised you?”
That’s it. Here’s our mirror moment. Nobody is helpingraise our precious babies any more. Too many are “minding their own business.” Not long ago, even as late as the crack-pushing Reagan 80s our community raised us. It is not airing dirty laundry to tell how people of African descent (Blacks are included for the new post-racial folks) were nurtured and raised in the village concept. Nosey neighbors existed to tattle and correct wayward children. Present fathers and uncles rounded up all the knuckleheads for sports. Sassy mothers braided any little girls hair and doled our freeze pops to any child within 50 feet of their home. Cool aunties taught us how to dance. Experienced big sisters kept us safe. Teachers set expectations and vehemently reinforced them. Dedicated church deacons disciplined like biological parents. The Mother’s Board and church ladies emphasized decorum. And dignity and values were common practice.And I’m not romanticizing. Was there deviant and criminal behavior back in the day? Most definitely. But bad behavior knew its place, and it certainly was not to be demonstrated out in the open near children and innocent by-standers. Nobody said, because little Kenya’s mother is working late it’s okay for her to run up and down the street with no supervision. Even if little Chris’ father wasn’t around, the fathers who were did not exclude him. Everyone took responsibility for everyone. There was and remains a role for each and everyone of us.  Without any of us ever pulling a trigger, if we continue to deny and shirk from our roles and responsibilities in this fight for our community’s values and ultimate existence, little Heaven will become an inexhaustible statistic.

Speaking of statistics, according to the Chicago Tribune, Heaven became the 20th child under 17 to be killed by gun violence. Let me instagram that visual for you… that would be an entire classroom of students. Get the picture?

Also included in the number is 16 year old Shakaki Asphy who was shot in the chest while visiting a friend earlier this month. She died. Unarmed. Sitting on a porch. 
Are you outraged about that? Don’t we owe it to our children, those born into circumstances through no fault of their own and with no resources to change their present reality, to live free and unharmed?Hate to admit it, but generations before dropped the ball in some aspects, many succumbing to drugs (using and selling) or that integrationists’ all-mighty, ever intoxicating American-Dream that if only you become a success  you can escape the hood that raised you and prosper…
Still, no matter what has or hasn’t happened in the past, it’s time for my generation and beyond, the Xs Ys whatever you tag yourself, it’s time to  take it back to the block. Attending to our professional development and networks is a beautiful thing, but when senseless violence stifles the dreams and makes life a nightmare for the children coming behind us, we can’t side step that.

I’m fed up. I really am. Time to take it back to the block. If you’d like to join Windy City CARES Circle of the National CARES Mentoring Movement and Girls Like Me Project, Inc. to organize a peace movement here in Chicago, please email your contact info.

Other ways you can help end the senseless violence are:
  • Become a mentor to youth in your community: So many are involved in self-destructive lifestyles due to lack of positive engagement. Your experiences and interaction can offer a life-saving alternative.
  • Report Crime: Time out for the “no-snitching” creed. Criminals are brazen because they are confident no one will tell.
  • Fight against gun violence
  • Educate: Share history (personal and universal) that gives young ones some cultural context and relevance. When you know better, you do better.
  • Dedicate your blog to gun violence prevention
Let’s not only shed tears for Heaven. We owe our lives to all those lives trying to survive the America they know and we want to forget.