For 100 South LA Youth, a Summer Discovering Reading’s Many Powers

By Michael Kelley

For Star Wars director J.J. Abrams, reading is a very powerful gateway that can lead to a lifetime of expression and self-discovery. 

“To get kids inspired by reading and hopefully the idea of getting creatively involved as a writer is something I’ve always felt was an important thing,” said Abrams. “[It’s] potentially a way to really forge your own path and go anywhere you want to go.”  

That’s part of the reason why Abrams and his wife, Katie McGrath, continue to generously support the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools, a summer enrichment program that helps low-income Black & Latino scholars build reading skills, understand their history, connect with their culture, and learn about social action. The one hosted by Community Coalition is now in its ninth year serving over 100 South LA elementary, middle, and high school students each summer. 

During each day of the seven-week program, there’s a special “Read Aloud” guest who reads a selection from a book of their choosing. Past guests have included NBA champion Kobe Bryant, award winning director Ava DuVernay, and Grammy-award winning musician Pharrell. Abrams was back again as one of those guests this year, choosing to read Malala’s “The Magic Pencil”. 

“It’s a book about the power that someone – anyone – has through expression to change the world,” Abrams said.

 That’s a sentiment fitting for CDF Freedom Schools, which aims to empower the next generation of Black & Latino scholars with improved reading comprehension skills and by nurturing their love of reading. Inspired by the 1964 Freedom Summer during the Civil Rights Movement, Freedom Schools were first developed by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to empower young people in Mississippi to discover their own desires and questions, and learn about ways to take social action. 

The program’s importance continues to this day as low-income children of color are still not getting an equal education in the United States. California, the country’s richest state, ranks 44th in per pupil spending in a public school system that’s majority children of color. This makes CDF Freedom Schools a key educational supplement for communities which suffer from a lack of affordable educational opportunities. It helps prevent the “summer slip”, referring to when students forget what they learned during the school year. Community Coalition’s partnership with CDF started in 2011 after LAUSD eliminated 90% of summer school programs due to budget cuts. 

“We want our scholars to get inspired, discover stories that they haven’t heard before, connect with each other, and start hearing that inner voice,” said Aurea Montes-Rodriguez, Executive Vice President of Community Coalition. “Freedom Schools is a place for Black & Latino youth to build pride and hope for the future, and discover the many joys of reading.”

Tags: Reading, CDF Freedom Schools, Youth