BVP board member Elaine Dickson talks guest reading, intentional diversity, and her childhood dream job ahead of this year’s Leaders and Literacy Week.

1. What is your current role?

I am the Co-founder and Chairperson of Reading Owls International, an educational nonprofit that builds libraries in Jamaica, my homeland, and whose mission is to increase the literacy levels of kids in Jamaica by providing access to high quality, culturally relevant books and educational resources. I am immersed in everything children’s literature on a daily basis.

2. Why did you sign up to be a Guest Reader?

I LOVE modeling reading for kids. If I can be part of a movement instilling a life-long love of books and reading in students, then I am in. I also love the spark in each scholar’s eyes as he or she starts to figure out bits and pieces of a story – it is truly magical.

3. What is your favorite book to read to your children?

I am a big believer in books as a fun engagement, a vehicle for discernment and dialogue as well as a window and mirror. Each child sees a reflection of his and others’ experiences and identity. My own kids are spread ages 5-18, so the reading material we share varies. For my younger kids, we do a lot of Anansi stories – folktales are always a huge hit. My two oldest boys and I recently read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book, “Between the World and Me” and discussed issues of race, injustice and belonging. My 14-y-o and I also read, “Girl in the Blue Coat” by Monica Hesse in late summer. The latter is a coming of age story about Dutch teens resisting the Nazis. This and similar type books form a core of our reading as they provide opportunities for us as a family to identify ways we can engage in the world that make it better for everyone.

4. What surprised you most about being in one of our classrooms?

The level of curiosity and engagement each scholar brought to the moment, plus the high level of ability in analyzing the story and connecting it to personal and daily experiences. It was so admirable and infectious.

5. What is the last book you read?

Auma’s Long Run, a story about a young Kenyan girl named Auma who dreams of being a doctor. To do so she must decide whether she will accept a track scholarship that will let her attend high school and be set on a path, or stay home to help her struggling family as AIDS ravages her home and village. A most arresting read!

6. What is the best book you have ever read?

This is a VERY tough question to answer as I could never pick one. In terms of contemporary writers, Jesmyn Ward, “The Men We Reaped” and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “Americanah” rank very high. “Things Fall Apart,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Joys of Motherhood” by Buchi Emecheta and “Children of Sisyphus” by Orlando Patterson were four books I read as a teenager that had a profound effect on my social consciousness and understanding of the world.

7. Where is your favorite place to read?

Every possible place. I read on the train, plane, on the couch, in my bed, on the porch, at the bookstore and library, you name it. The place is very secondary.

8. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Always a photojournalist. I wanted to tell people’s stories, create awareness, shine a light on injustice and give the marginalized a voice. I feel very fortunate that I get to do much of this work on a regular basis through other avenues, but I do have moments when I mourn a dream deferred (denied).

9. What was your favorite part of school?

English Literature classes. I had an amazing English Lit teacher who helped cultivate my interest; she could bring the dullest book to life. She also presented reading as the best and coolest subject. I lived to read and as someone who grew up poor in a rural community, books also served as my passport to the world.

10. What inspires you to volunteer your time to BVP?

I am drawn to people and organizations that relentlessly pursue excellence for the greater good – both are in abundance at BVP. I also see my younger self in many of the scholars, some with immigrant stories similar to mine, finding their place in an environment that at its core seeks to educate every child, is intentional around bringing a diverse body of kids together to create an inclusive learning community. It is an easy place to fall in love with!

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During Leaders and Literacy Week, BVP invites leaders in our community to read to a classroom of elementary scholars. Elaine Dickson has stepped up to volunteer for the past two years.