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‘The community deserves to read these stories’

Talking about books while noshing soup and crusty bread can lead to powerful discussions.

Consider the connections Wyoming High School senior Jonelly Macias made at the recent Project Lit meeting between youth mental health and the nonfiction book “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson. She said school counselors and teachers need to be persistent in reaching out to students who are withdrawn and isolated.

Junior Cindy Gomez leads discussion during project

“Don’t leave them alone. That’s when the are most vulnerable and their  imaginations run wild and they start thinking about the craziest things,” Jonelly said.

Students and staff members delved into the book, which documents vast inequities in the justice system affecting people of color and the poor.

Participants jotted down thoughts on sticky notes for discussion. Topics included the death penalty, life sentences for juveniles and racial disparities in the prison system and in sentencing.

Equally thought-provoking conversations have taken place during the community book club’s meetings on books such as  “Born a Crime” by Trevor Noah and “With the Fire on High” by Elizabeth Acevedo, said media specialist Melissa Schneider. She started the Wyoming chapter of Project Lit with English teacher Kim-Hang Tran and Wyoming High School students, who serve as ambassadors.

The next Project Lit selection is “Shout” by Laurie Halse Anderson.

Junior Vanessa Martinez jots down her thoughts about a topic in the book ‘Just Mercy’

Sharing Books and Conversations

A high school teacher and his class started the original Project Lit in 2016  in Nashville, Tennessee. The goal was to expose students to books they could relate to while bringing the community together. The class began donating books to “book deserts,” areas where students don’t have access to many books.

The Wyoming chapter meets a few times a year to talk about a selected book that represents diverse characters and authors, different cultures and underrepresented populations.

Wyoming High School students are very diverse so the books resonate with them, Tran said. “They can see themselves in the books.”

Added Schneider. “The goal is that the kids see adults reading and we can have conversations together about books. Books aren’t just something assigned in school.”

Ambassadors, including juniors Vanessa Martinez, Deymi Gramajo and Cindy Gomez and senior Jonelly, discussed why they are passionate about the project.

‘I thought the concept behind the whole club was a good (one) and a good thing to spread. I think the community deserves to read these stories,” Vanessa said.

“I would like to spread the love of reading to the community and get more people involved in reading,” Cindy said.

Jonelly said the whole idea is to appreciate books. “They are books that are good for the soul, good for the mind and help us grow as individuals.”

Wyoming’s club also has a community service focus. They will launch Project Lit on Wheels this summer, using a donated van transformed into a mobile library to deliver books to children. Students will facilitate book donations efforts in the community.

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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