I have never been so nervous in my life. I am standing in front of a room with 40 sets of eyes staring, waiting for me to begin my presentation. But there is no PowerPoint and I am not in front of major donors trying to persuade them to do their charitable giving through the Foundation. I am reading a book for the Freedom School at Carolina Youth Development Center (CYDC).
Freedom School is a national program through the Children’s Defense Fund, and the program at CYDC serves 50 North Charleston children for six weeks during the summer by boosting motivation to read and creating a more positive attitude around learning. This morning, like every morning, started off with a ritual called Harambee, Swahili for “let’s pull together,” which is a 30 minute session of energetic dancing, motivational cheering, and children’s books. I started tapping my foot to the first song of the day, but by the “Hallelujah Chorus,” I was being strongly encouraged to sing along and learn the dance moves. I have to say that this version of Handel’s Messiah’s finale was much more fun to sing than the version I did back in my college days.
After the kids settled down, I was introduced as the reader for the day. Each day, a professional from the community reads a short story. The readers are from varying industries and all walks of life. My story was “She Who is Alone,” a story about a Comanche orphan who makes a great sacrifice to save her village. When I finished, the children all thanked me, not by clapping, but by singing to me and asking me to “strut my stuff.” The kids then sang a few more songs about looking people in the eyes and believing that they could achieve anything despite what others may say.
When I said goodbye, the real work started. The kids were broken up into groups to participate in intensive reading-related activities, as well as sports and team-building exercises, arts and crafts, and field trips. The hope is that the kids will start the school year at the same level of reading, or better, that they left with the previous year.
Too bad all our days don’t start with Harambee!