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African American Read-In Event Celebrates Black History Month

African American Read-In Event Celebrates Black History Month

The multi-talented author-illustrator team of Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney awed and inspired students and their families across Bloomfield Hills Schools, on Tuesday, February 15th at the African American Read-In. In honor of Black History Month, Bloomfield Hills High School hosted a viewing site for the Oakland Schools event, which was also viewable from students’ homes via webinar. The event theme was “Courage in our Stories,” and the Pinkneys shared many wise words on this topic. Brian noted that when thinking about the work of illustration, “the courageous thing is to just start!” Andrea was inspired with the words, “Write every day and read every day. Push past your comfort zone! And make your mess your message. You might be helping someone.”

Andrea - an author, swimmer, and singer - and Brian - an illustrator, author, drummer in a rock band, and kung fu artist - powerfully engaged students through their love of reading, writing, and drawing. All together, the Pinkneys have published nearly 70 books and collaborated on over 50 books. Their works have received the highest awards and accolades, including the Newberry Medal, Randolph Caldecott Honors, Coretta Scott King Book Awards, Jane Addams Children’s Literature Honor, NAACP Image Award nominations, and the May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Award. 

The author-illustrator couple was introduced by BHS Superintendent Pat Watson. Watson explained that the National African American Read-In is a groundbreaking effort to encourage communities to read together. It was established in 1990 by the Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English to make literacy a significant part of Black History Month. 

The Pinkneys began the webinar by sharing their process, including how they each get inspired to write and draw. After the Pinkneys read selections from several of their books, a Question and Answer session yielded fascinating topics. When asked why so many of their books focus on African American history, Brian explained, “When I was growing up, my dad was an illustrator of a lot of books about Black history. He would share them with me. But when I went to bookstores and libraries, I didn’t see many. My father was one of the first illustrators of the African American experience. And when I read those books, I saw myself in them. I thought to myself, ‘that experience is important for a child, to see themselves in books.’ It was important for us to do this, so that everyone can see themselves in books.” 

Andrea shared, “when I was growing up, my parents were members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. When I was a child, me, my sister, and my brother spent our summers at the NAACP National Annual Conference, where we heard notable African American Freedom Fighters speaking. That was history in the making. My father was a very good story-teller, and my mother, who was a teacher, read everything to us. My parents spoke about Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, John Lewis, and Harriet Tubman. I thought about how these are topics that are interesting to me, and if I wrote about them when I was growing up, maybe they would be great topics for the books that we write.”

BHHS was one of three watch-sites for this event. “This is the first year that Oakland Schools created watch sites for the African American Read-In,” explained Liza Lauter, BHHS Teacher and K-12 English Language Arts Teacher Leader, who coordinated the registration process for our community. “It was a way to make a national experience, and then a county experience, become a community experience.” 

Over 150 Bloomfield Hills Schools students participated either in person or virtually. Registered students received signed copies of one of four books by the Pinkneys: JoJo’s Flying Side Kick, Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up By Sitting Down, Loretta Little Looks Back, or The Red Pencil. Oakland Schools provided 50 of the books, and Bloomfield Schools provided another 100 books for student participants who registered early. 

Lauter reflected, “I love the Pinkneys’ message about how reading and writing go hand in hand. Writers read a lot, and readers write a lot. They emphasized the importance of writing and reading every day, and always having a notebook nearby. That represents what we are trying to instill in our students every day in Bloomfield Hills Schools!”