York promotes literature in honor of black history

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The written words of Alice Walker, Richard Wright and W.E.B. DuBois mingled with Biblical passages and original works Sunday as York College joined the 15th annual African-American Read-In Chain to celebrate Black History Month.

About 20 people read excerpts on black history or written by black authors as part of the national event promoting literacy and heritage, said Charles Coleman, a York College professor and one of the coordinators.

“We want to get people into reading, and particularly reading African-American authors,” Coleman said.

The Read-In, organized by the school’s English Department, was part of the 15th annual nationwide event started by the Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English. The event has always been scheduled for the first Sunday and Monday in February to coincide with the start of Black History Month, Coleman said.

About 30 to 40 participants were expected at Monday’s session at York College, and more than 1 million people across the country were expected to join the chain, he said.

“We’ve always been a link in the national Read-In Chain since it started,” he said. “What we’re doing here at York College is being replicated in schools, churches and living rooms across the country.”

One of Sunday’s guest readers was Lindamichelle Baron, a poet and teacher who recently joined the York College faculty. Baron is known for her work with children and has published books of poems for young people, as well as collections for adults, she said. Baron read a two-part poem on a conversation between a young man and Baron, who represented an authority figure.

Baron also read a poem using the metaphor of sneakers to teach young girls to respect their bodies.

“Some of us treat our sneakers better than our bodies,” she said. “You don’t let just anyone put their feet in your sneakers.”

Others selected works by prominent black authors such as Richard Wright, Alice Walker, W.E.B. DuBois and others, while some chose passages from the Bible to illustrate that black history was written there.

A former professor at York College read an excerpt from Lucille Clifton’s “The Woman That I Am.”

“I spent six months reading black American literature,” she said. “When I was in college, black American literature was not a part of the curriculum. It became an integral part of my life, my library and my teaching.”

Among the event’s goals is to keep people reading all year and to introduce them to authors they may not know, Coleman said.

“It’s important as a spark, and not just to do it once a year,” he said. “Students report to me that they’ve started reading groups of their own. And that all started as part of this.”

York College was scheduled to host a Black History Month kick-off celebration Sunday before the read-in started, but the event was canceled. The college has planned a variety of other historical and cultural programs throughout February.

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

Updated 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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