Like many nine-year-old boys, Derrick Smith likes to play video games. The fourth grader at the Partnership’s Archbishop Lyke School in Cleveland has favorites that include Rocket League and a number of football games, along with the little bit of Fortnite his mom allows.
But he spends a great deal of his free time doing something else: reading. And not only does he read for fun, but he shares his book recommendations with other boys—and gives away books —through a non-profit he and his mother run, Boys Do Read.
Last week, Cleveland’s ABC affiliate profiled Boys Do Read and Literacy in the Hood, the literacy non-profit started by his mom, Chrishawndra Matthews. You can view the whole story here:
This isn’t the first time Derrick has been interviewed about his family’s efforts to spread the love of reading; Kelly Clarkson highlighted their efforts last summer on her show:
Four aspects of Derrick and his mom’s passion both for reading and for sharing it with others stand out for us:
While Derrick knows the importance of literacy for his future, he mostly wants reading to be fun. At the monthly book events where he and other boys gather for book give-aways, inspiring speakers, and games, Derrick personally ensures that the books on offer are ones he enjoys.
Some of his favorites include The Dog Man and Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey (particularly A Tale of Two Kitties in the Dog Man series) and the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney (particularly The Long Haul).
Indeed, part of the reason Ms. Matthews began Literacy in the Hood is that some of the literacy events she attended in urban Cleveland when Derrick was much younger were focused on discipline—not the right fit “when you’re trying to get a three-year-old excited about reading.” And too often, she says, reading is used as a punishment.
Hope—and Holy Impatience
In addition to being fun, the Boys Do Read events are future-focused, designed to reinforce for participants the idea that “I am Black history.” They feature guest speakers who are readers and community members making a difference. “So many times in Black history,” Ms. Matthews explains, “we go to who’s dead.” They’ve also made a deliberate effort to include police officers, so the boys have positive encounters in a low-stress setting.
Derrick and his mom were organizing book give-aways before COVID, but they stepped up the effort when the pandemic shut down libraries and other literacy nonprofits. “Mommy, we can’t be closed,” Derrick insisted. “We were meeting at gas stations and in parks,” Ms. Matthews shares—anywhere they could collect books and get them into the hands of kids facing boredom and COVID learning loss.
According to Ms. Matthews, Boys Do Read and Literacy in the Hood have given away over 100,000 books since the beginning of the pandemic. And they’ve done all this as her family navigated challenges. Ms. Matthews does contract cleaning for a living, and the facilities where she worked were shut down early in the pandemic. The disruption compelled the family to move, but a few things remained constant through those changes: Derrick’s reading, the family’s determination, and their collaborative efforts to give away books.
The Schools-and-Family Partnership
As a curriculum-focused network, Partnership Schools clearly embraces Derrick and Ms. Williams’ focus on reading outside school; it’s one more way our classrooms and our families can partner on behalf of our kids. Vice President of Academics Maggie Johnson even suggests a way to level up families’ reading game at home: “read aloud to older siblings or adults as much as possible. Fluency is often referred to as ‘meaning made audible’— so when students are reading fluently and with expression, it’s a much better measure that they are understanding what they are reading—and it makes it more theatrical and joyful. And don’t be afraid to correct our fledgling readers when they make mistakes or to challenge them to tackle a difficult sentence more than once. That’s exactly what they need to grow and take on more challenging, rich books.”
Derrick is just finishing his first year at his Partnership School, Archbishop Lyke. He says the school is “a good school with a good fit for me.” He’s working on writing his own book on bullying, which will incorporate some of his experiences at previous schools. “This is a no-bullying school,” he says simply. “It makes me feel better.”
His principal, Nancy Lynch, points out that “Derrick epitomizes the core values and root beliefs” of Archbishop Lyke. “He is sharing his love of books and reading with other people—and that shows that each one of us is unique, that we are better together—and it’s a wonderful example of how God has created us for greatness.”