As soon as Solomon Jones reaches the podium, he begins reciting the lines of a poem he wrote back in 2005. He poses a question, both to the audience in attendance as well as anyone willing to confront the issue: “Why can’t Johnny read?” Is it the neighborhood he grew up in? The school he attends? Jones, bestselling author and founder of Words on the Street, thinks that despite what the media says, there are a lot of people in the education system doing a lot of good work. His program is definitely proof enough.
On Tuesday, May 22, Marathon Grill in Center City hosted the awards ceremony for Words on the Street, an initiative that seeks to partner parents, schools and businesses to engage students in writing and literacy. The program is funded by the BME Challenge, created by John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Open Society Foundations’ Campaign for Black Male Achievement to recognize, connect and invest in black men and boys who engage others in making their communities stronger.
Literacy is the pinnacle of skills, because it allows us to learn most anything else we set out to study. That is why Solomon Jones is utilizing it as his focal point. The program has a few components that seek to encourage writing and literacy in the Philadelphia area. Words on the Street presents role models whose achievements are based in literacy, encourages parental involvement and makes literacy relevant through experiential learning and rewards creativity.
The real stars of the evening, however, were the students who were honored for their writing. Overall, 28 young people completed the program and wrote a short story to culminate the process. Everyone has a story. The difficult part is learning how to tell it, make it relevant and make people want to hear it. These students are definitely up to the challenge.
One student from each of the six schools that participated in Words on the Street received special recognition. As a reward, all six winners will have their stories published in the Philadelphia Inquirer through the Newspapers in Education program. The students are: Ahkeel Timothy – Mastery Charter /Shoemaker Campus; Anibal Velez – Samuel Fels High School; Chaya Cleveland – Randolph Technical High School; Destiny Martins – South Philadelphia High School; Jabril Sawyer – Camden High School; and Naila Khan – Bartram High School.