This Week at READ USA

Multicultural Literacy

READ USA Community Partner Celebrates Mr. T Reading Challenge

  • Read USA Inc.
  • May 1 2024


The Friends of Brentwood Library, a stellar proponent of literacy in our community and a community partner of READ USA, continues to celebrate the life and impact of one of its most ardent champions for youth and literacy: Mr. Melvin Turnage, affectionally called Mr. T, who passed away in 2019.

To honor his contributions, Mrs. Sharon Coon, the chair of the Friends of Brentwood Library, which she also founded in 2013, created the Mr. T Reading Challenge. And to this day, the Mr. T Reading Challenge is going strong and held its fourth annual awards ceremony just a couple weeks ago.


On April 13, the Mr. T Reading Challenge and Friends of Brentwood Library recognized 36 elementary students from five Brentwood-area schools by “rewarding those who read the most,” said Mrs. Coon. “We wanted to do something to embrace Mr. T’s legacy and his devotion to our youth and their success, so we created this competition. We met with principals and teachers to roll it out, and the model we created is working just like we intended!”

Before Spring Break, students in kindergarten through second grade at those elementary schools receive a bookmark to report what they’ve read over the break to their teacher upon return. They receive five points for every book they read, and the students who read the most books receive gift cards and prizes during an awards celebration at Brentwood Library. Students who are the most-improved readers are also rewarded, and teachers and principals are recognized as well, with funds given to teachers for classroom supplies.

At the awards celebration the other week, READ USA provided Mayor Donna Deegan’s River City Readers backpacks stuffed with books for the award winners. All of the other children in attendance also received free books from READ USA – and there was hardly a book remaining!

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“We love every opportunity to support our partners’ literacy initiatives, and the Mr. T Reading Challenge is very near and dear to many hearts in the Brentwood community and beyond,” said Dr. Kelly. “It was an honor to participate alongside Mrs. Coon, known locally as the grandmother of literacy, who has given so much of herself to ensure our youth’s success.”

When Mrs. Coon was experiencing health issues years ago, it was Mr. T who stepped up to keep the Friends of Brentwood Library’s important community initiatives moving. “He was with us from the very beginning,” recalls Mrs. Coon warmly. “No tasks were too big or too small for him to keep the program running while I was away, and he was a tremendous mentor for the kids, especially the boys. It was wonderful to have a male presence; he was like a father figure.”

“I once told him, ‘Thank you for holding me on your shoulders. Without your support, I was limited with what I could reach. With you, I could reach more, and I appreciate your unselfish commitment to these children.’ Everyone felt the loss of him, but his legacy is living on.”

She continued, “The Mr. T Reading Challenge inspires these kids and keeps them focused on things that are good for them. I’ll never forget a teacher telling me one time that one of her most mischievous kids in school out read all of the other kids – and he showed up to our awards dressed like Michael Jackson! This transformation is a part of why we do what we do at the Friends of Brentwood Library.”

We couldn’t agree with you more, Mrs. Coon! READ USA is immensely grateful for your partnership and for all that you do to uplift literacy in our community, day in and day out!


#ICYMI: Watch Last Week’s Press Conference

#ICYMI last week, READ USA celebrated a significant milestone with the announcement of our first-ever Literacy Tutoring randomized controlled trial. While past studies of our Literacy Tutoring program have indicated positive results, this study – which was quite different – conclusively validated our program’s impact: elementary students who participate in our tutoring program demonstrably improve their reading skills.


And now, you can watch the full press conference on our YouTube channel! Watch above as our CEO Dr. Rob Kelly, alongside Duval County Public Schools (DCPS) leadership, discusses the study and its impressive, third-party validated results. Plus, you’re in for a treat: we had a READ USA teen tutor, teacher, and parent of an elementary student share their experiences as well!

You can read the press release announcement here and access the full study report with an overview summary here.

Many thanks again to DCPS leadership and the media and guests who joined us last week! Check out some of the media coverage on Jax Today and News4Jax, and also Dr. Kelly’s recent guest column in the Florida Times-Union.

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READ USA Celebrates Tenikka Hughes at Jeremy’s Journey Book Reception

Last week, the READ USA team had the unique opportunity to do something extra special and fun: celebrate a local TV celebrity and literacy champion!


Action News Jax Anchor Tenikka Hughes – the founder of Tenikka’s Books for Kids – met with Jeremy, the fictional namesake and storyteller of our Jeremy’s Journey book series, a couple months ago and her book was officially launched last week during a private reception at the Action News Jax station.

We are so grateful for the many people who came out to celebrate Tenikka and her efforts to build a more literate community! Many thanks to Tenikka for autographing so many copies of her book during the event as well. Thank you also to Action News Jax for generously sponsoring the event – and for sharing the news with the community!

Stay tuned for more – Tenikka will receive the Mark Landon Memorial Award for Democracy through Journalism from READ USA at our Peace in the Pages in Honor of Roseann Duran event later this year!

Tenikka’s Jeremy’s Journey book is also available to order for $20 per copy. Click here to place your order and coordinate pickup with READ USA.

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I’m a Star Foundation Hosts Leader to Leader Summit

Our Chief Programs Officer Tabetha Cox attended the I’m a Star Foundation’s Leader to Leader Summit this past weekend, and what an inspiration it was to attend!

Tabetha_Ms Burney_Im a Star Leader to Leader_4.27.24_smallThe I’m a Star Foundation was founded by education advocate and former Duval County Public Schools Board Member Betty Seabrook Burney in 2010. Since that time, Ms. Burney has convened hundreds of teens aged 12-18 to cultivate leadership skills and develop solutions to help their peers improve three core issues: childhood obesity, food deserts, and student homelessness.

The Leader to Leader Summit gathered community and youth leaders to discuss solutions for improving student grades; youth mental health; violence, crime, and suicide prevention; and the impact of social media on youth. Tabetha participated in the youth mental health breakout session, with student participants reporting back out to the full group with proposed solutions. A couple ideas they discussed included implementing “Destress Fest” at schools, creating a free mental health app for youth in Duval County, and others.

Needless to say, Tabetha left the room that day feeling renewed and inspired by the leadership of these teenagers! Thank you to Ms. Burney and the I’m a Star Foundation for the invitation to join your stellar group of community and student leaders!

Thank You, JAX Chamber South Council!

Last week, our CEO Dr. Rob Kelly spoke to an engaged room of business leaders at the JAX Chamber South Council’s April gathering. He discussed early childhood literacy and READ USA’s efforts to close the literacy gap in Duval County, and how local Southside businesses can support these efforts to create a more literate community!

We are grateful for the invitation to attend and speak to the South Council’s members! We appreciated the thoughtful questions and discussion around the room, and most importantly the new connections we were able to make with local leaders who are engaged in community issues and solutions.


If you know of a local group that would like to learn more about what they can do to help close the literacy gap, let us know!

Free Books for San Jose Elementary Students

Right before our READ USA Book Fairs resumed this week, we got back into our book-giveaway groove at San Jose Elementary School’s Community Resource Festival!

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More than 100 parents and 300+ children and teenagers descended on San Jose Elementary this past weekend to learn about and access a wealth of community resources available to them. From health screenings to a food pantry to music and games, the feedback from families throughout the day was overwhelmingly positive – and READ USA was grateful to attend! What community event with kids activities and giveaways would be complete without FREE BOOKS!?

Thank you to the team at San Jose Elementary School for inviting READ USA to join this very fun – and very essential – event and provide free books to kids (our most favorite thing to do!). The kiddos flocked right to them!

Children’s Book: The Bees of Notre Dame by Meghan P. Browne

Illustrated by E.B. GoodaleTheBeesBook_large

This poetic, touching nonfiction picture book tells the fascinating story of the honeybee colonies that lived on the roof of the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris and survived the devastating 2019 fire.

High above the bustling streets and gardens of Paris is a little-known wonder: a cluster of beehives. They sit atop the roof of the Notre-Dame cathedral, lovingly tended to by a beekeeper named Sibyle Moulin. Scenes of Paris in springtime preface the bees’ emergence from their hives. The bees fly above the city, then return to the “small pine box” where the queen lays her eggs. But when a fire broke out in the cathedral in 2019, the bees almost didn't make it. Firefighters battled heat and smoke, carefully spraying their hoses around the hives, pumping in water from fireboats on the Seine, and, miraculously, they survived.

Meghan P. Browne and E. B. Goodale fill the story of Notre-Dame’s bees and the fire that almost killed them with great hope. After the fire, there is rebuilding to be done, but with hard work and collaboration, perhaps the cathedral can be restored after all. Goodale draws the cathedral’s beekeeper working in front of the scaffolding erected to repair the building. “Rebuild,” Browne writes, “Work with each other... just like the bees.” 

From the rooftops of Paris to the intricacies of a beehive, here is a moving picture book about resilience in the face of disaster.

Submitted by Kathi Hart, READ USA Content Specialist

Parent Education Corner: Creating a World of Words

As a parent working with your child, your main goal should be to develop great enthusiasm in the reader for reading and writing. You are the child’s cheerleader. It is less important for the reader to get every word exactly right. It is more important for the child to learn to love reading itself. If the reader finishes one book and asks for another, you know you are succeeding! If your reader writes even once a week and comes back for more, you know you have accomplished your beginning goals.

Creating a “World of Words” in your home is an enjoyable way to support children as they begin moving into reading and writing.

What you will need:

  • Paper
  • Pencils, crayons, markers
  • Glue
  • Newspapers, magazines
  • Safety scissors

What to do:

  • Hang posters of the alphabet on bedroom walls or make an alphabet poster with your child. Print the letters in large type.
  • Label the things in your child’s pictures. If your child draws a picture of a house, label it with “This is a house,” and put it on the refrigerator.
  • Have your child watch you write when you make a shopping list or a “what to do” list. Say the words aloud and carefully print each letter.
  • Let your child make lists, too. Help your child form the letters and spell the words.
  • Look at books, newspapers, and magazines with your child. Find an interesting picture and show it to your child as you read the caption aloud.
  • Create a scrapbook. Cut out pictures of people and places and label them. Make a scrapbook of family members, pets, and/or special places.
  • Play word/letter games like Scrabble, Boggle, and Hangman.

By exposing your child to words and letters often in your home, the “World of Words” will become familiar and exciting!

Submitted by Kathi Hart, READ USA Content Specialist

Do you have any questions or ideas for the Parent Education Corner? Anything you’d like to learn? Let us know here!