This Week at READ USA

Jeremy's Journey

What Juneteenth Means to READ USA

  • Read USA Inc.
  • June 19 2024


One of the most inspirational quotes that we reference frequently at READ USA is from Frederick Douglass, a former enslaved man who became a prominent social reformer, author, and orator: “When you learn to read, you will be forever free.”

When Mr. Douglass gave a keynote address in Rochester, New York on July 5, 1852 – nearly 11 years before the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation – he asked the crowd, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” He continued later, “This Fourth of July is yours, not mine, You may rejoice, I must mourn.”

The Smithsonian Institution has referred to Juneteenth as our nation’s second Independence Day. However, even on June 19, 1865 – when General Gordon ordered the final enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation in Texas – not everyone in our nation was truly free. In fact, people remained legally enslaved until the 13th Amendment passed nearly six months later. Inequality and the racist remnants of enslavement continued to plague our society for the next century and beyond – even up to this very day.

To me, this is why it is absolutely necessary to recognize, celebrate, and reflect upon Juneteenth. Juneteenth was a historic milestone and a vital step toward breaking down hate and the barriers that divided our society. The essence of Juneteenth is to celebrate independence from hate, independence of thought, and independence of pursuit. It is about removing the shackles that once prevented humans, both literally and figuratively, from experiencing freedom. And while our nation has made progress since June 19, 1865, we are still traveling on the road to true equity and belonging.

That is why the work that we do every day at READ USA is so incredibly important. As Frederick Douglass said, and as our team adamantly believes, literacy and the ability to read is foundational to freedom. Literacy elevates our understanding, teaches us empathy, and empowers us to break down barriers. Enslaved individuals in our nation’s history were deliberately denied the ability to read and be educated – and to this day, a lack of access to high-interest books and high-quality teaching continues to prevent citizens from experiencing liberty through literacy. Our work at READ USA is focused on building a better future for tomorrow but is also grounded in the context of our nation’s history.

In addition to Mr. Douglass’s remarks, today I am also reflecting upon what a friend of READ USA recently shared with me: “It’s not ‘them’ and ‘us’ – it’s only ‘us.’” This is precisely how we approach our work every day at READ USA and it reflects a part of what Juneteenth means to me, not just today, but every day. For it is when we all embrace us and we vs. a mentality of them or they that everyone in our country can truly experience freedom.

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Dr. Robert H. Kelly

READ USA President & CEO

P.S. – I also found this article from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture about “Why is Juneteenth Important?” interesting.

Andrea Barnwell Brownlee, Ph.D., 2024 READ to Heal Award Honoree

Andrea Barnwell Brownlee, Ph.D., Director and CEO of the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, is our 2024 READ to Heal Award Honoree! Celebrated at our upcoming Peace in the Pages in Honor of Roseann Duran luncheon on Oct. 2, the READ to Heal Award recognizes someone who embodies the importance of healing in all forms – intellectually, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Healing brings our community together and unites us in support and respect for one another, and the READ to Heal Award honoree personifies the intersection of healing and literacy.

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Dr. Brownlee relocated to Jacksonville in 2020 and has since served as the George W. and Kathleen I. Gibbs Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens. She previously served as the director of the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art for nearly 20 years and is currently one of only seven African American general art museum directors in the country.

Dr. Brownlee grew up in a reading family and developed a love for reading early in life. An avid reader to this day, Dr. Brownlee is also an accomplished author, and she has received several academic, professional, and scholarly awards. She has curated and co-curated many exhibitions and is widely recognized for her leadership and influential publications.

As Dr. Brownlee shared with Jeremy, our fictional Jeremy’s Journey storyteller, for her book, she is humbled and honored to receive the READ to Heal Award from READ USA. “It is truly a privilege to lead the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens. The Museum is increasingly leaning into its role as a community hub for well-being, wellness, and healing. I represent an extraordinary team that is committed to ensuring that the Cummer is a resource that brings communities together in Jacksonville and beyond. Our team is also focused on growing the Cummer into a nationally recognized institution.”

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Under Dr. Brownlee’s leadership, the Cummer Museum has embraced collaborative partnerships to promote hope and healing, including a partnership with Jacksonville Arts & Music School (JAMS). JAMS students wrote a book about friendship, trust, and collaboration set in the Cummer Gardens. “Excerpts from The Book of Lost Magic were made into a story walk,” Dr. Brownlee shared. The two-part project is dedicated to the legacy of sculptor Augusta Savage, a native of the First Coast. “It was awesome to see a group of young readers working together and becoming writers.”

Dr. Brownlee also shared, “The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens loved partnering with READ USA to create a series of Read Alouds about the meaningful connection between visual and written narratives to students.” She has also inspired by READ USA’s efforts to close the literacy gap in our community, stating, “We’ve got to make sure that by third grade, our children are reading on grade level. It’s critical, and as a parent who is new to this city, I’m so excited that READ USA is working toward that goal.”

We are just as excited to celebrate you and your embrace of art and literacy as mechanisms to improve well-being, wellness, and healing in our community, Dr. Brownlee! We are thrilled to honor you at Peace in the Pages this year and thank you for all you do for our community’s youth!

You can read more about Dr. Brownlee by ordering her Jeremy’s Journey book here for $20/copy and coordinating pickup with READ USA.

We look forward to the 2024 Peace in the Pages in Honor of Roseann Duran event on Oct. 2 at EverBank Stadium. Stay tuned for more Peace in the Pages award honoree features in the coming weeks!

Summer Leadership Academy Visits Ritz Theatre & Museum and More

The tutors in our Summer Leadership Academy have had another busy week of career exploration!

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Last week, our tutors learned new ways that STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics – topics converge with learning opportunities focused on history and leadership.

The Summer Leadership Academy first worked with Stem2 Hub last week, which provided an amazing hands-on presentation with programming Lego machines, artificial intelligence, and automation/robotics.

On Tuesday, tutors explored numerous artifacts and a cultural presentation that dated to the early 1900’s at the Ritz Theatre & Museum, in addition to experiencing contemporary works by Malcolm Jackson and Weldon Ryan. They also met with local photographer and entrepreneur Malcolm Jackson, whose work is currently on display at the Ritz. Each tutor also completed a public speaking activity, where they were asked to share their experience at the Ritz, the importance of learning local history, and history’s impact on society through the eyes of future leaders. They did another public speaking activity later in the week prior to their visit to the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens where they explored the museum’s collection of 5,000+ works of art. Here, they explored history’s connections to today and how exposure to arts and culture is vital to leadership.

Through the Summer Leadership Academy’s focus on career exploration and leadership development, the tutors also made progress on their individual READ USA projects. We cannot wait to share more details about what they are creating! But we can share that their projects incorporate personal and professional goals while understanding that leaders should always strive towards a better, more informed version of themselves… much more to come!

Check out some photos from last week and stay tuned for more updates!

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Meet Jeremy’s Newest Friend: Tutor Ronnie Gadio

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Jeremy, the fictional storyteller of our Jeremy’s Journey book series, recently met a new friend: READ USA Tutor Ronnie Gadio!

Ronnie, who recently graduated from Raines High School, has been a tutor with READ USA for the past two years at North Shore Elementary School. While Ronnie is an exceptional tutor of elementary students at school, he is also an exceptional tutor at home: he has helped his own father learn to read and speak English.

“[My parents] are hardworking, loving parents, but they could never read books with me,” Ronnie shared with Jeremy. “They speak mainly Pulaar, their native language, and only read Arabic. It was my brother, Baidy, who read to me and helped me with my homework.”

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in the United States, was born in Jacksonville in 2005. Even though Ronnie spoke English and his father spoke Pulaar, they still managed to communicate with each other. Ronnie’s dad always encouraged him to learn everything he could and sometimes joked, “You can take what you learn and teach me,” – which is exactly what Ronnie has been doing.

Read More: Florida Times-Union Columnist Mark Woods interviewed Ronnie and published a story earlier this year about him tutoring his father, accessible here.

While reading is the main focus during tutoring, Ronnie also feels it’s important to be there if his student has a challenge and needs to talk. One of his students once told him that she had a bad grade on her report card and was afraid to tell her mother. “We talked about it. I advised her to be honest with her mom and tell her that she did her best,” Ronnie shared with Jeremy. “It turned out that her mother wasn’t mad at her and appreciated her honesty. They are now working together to help her do better.”

Ronnie will attend the University of North Florida to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering this fall – and, given how he has cultivated his literacy skills even further during tutoring, is prepared for a lot of reading and studying!

The READ USA team is so proud of all that you have and will continue to accomplish, Ronnie!

For $20, you can read Ronnie’s whole inspirational story yourself! Place your order here and coordinate pickup with READ USA.

READ USA Participates in Melanin Market Juneteenth Event

Last weekend, our team had a fantastic time attending the Melanin Market’s Juneteenth Celebration on A. Philip Randolph Boulevard!


Team READ USA handed out 400+ free books and River City Readers Backpacks among the thousands of individuals and families who attended the event.

“There was an older gentleman who visited our table who was so excited to share how the books will help improve his grandchildren’s reading engagement during the summer,” our Book Programs Director Stephanie Darilus noted, adding that, “It’s always so powerful to hear feedback like this. Each and every single child matters, and it was wonderful to see how much this grandfather cared so much about keeping his grandkids focused on reading during the summer.”

Many thanks to Dawn Curling and the Melanin Market team for inviting READ USA to participate! We are excited for future events to come!

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Children’s Book: Juneteenth by Van G. Garrett

 Illustrated by Reginald C. Adams and Samson Bimbo Adenugba

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A lyrical picture book about our newest national holiday, Juneteenth follows the annual celebration in Galveston, Texas—birthplace of Juneteenth—through the eyes of a young boy coming to understand his place in Black American history.

A young Black boy, along with his parents and younger sister, travels to Galveston to witness the annual parade and celebrate the anniversary of enslaved Africans learning of their emancipation. The boy has a captivating sensory experience: He hears melodic music, smells delicious food, tastes sweet candy, and sees warm faces that look like those of his family members. While dancing and rejoicing, his parents educate him about the history of slavery in the United States and why Juneteenth is a day filled with hope and joy. Strangers, family members, and friends all spread hope and love to each other as the holiday ends with fireworks over the ocean.

The poetic text includes selected lyrics from “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the unofficial Black National Anthem, and the vibrant art illuminates the beauty of this moment of Black joy, celebrated across the nation. This vibrant adventure through the city streets invites young readers to make a joyful noise about freedom for all.

Submitted by Kathi Hart, READ USA Content Specialist

Parent Education Corner: Sounding Out Unknown Words

Helping Your Child Become a Reader

The Parent Corner is continuing to provide information to parents/caregivers about how you can help young learners become readers and writers.

👉This week’s focus is: Why is my child sometimes reluctant to sound out unknown words? What should I do when this happens?

We are continuing with the research of Linnea C. Ehri. Her research suggests that children move through four phases on their way to becoming joyful, confident readers. The phases are Pre-Alphabetic Phase, Partial Alphabetic Phase, Full Alphabetic Phase, and Consolidated Alphabetic Phase. Understanding these phases will help us recognize how to support our children when they are reluctant readers.

This week, we will build upon previous weeks’ information and review the transition between the Partial Alphabetic Phase and Full Alphabetic Phase.

📘Transitioning to the Full Alphabetic Phase

To move into the Full Alphabetic Phase, children need to acquire the major letter-sound relations of

the writing system. They need to acquire decoding skills to sound out letters and blend the sounds to

form words. The type of reading instruction that helps children master these skills is called phonics.

Learners at this transitional phase are learning to read across sounds, solidifying not just the beginning and ending of words, but their middle as well.

Here are tips for supporting your child as they move from the Partial Alphabetic Phase to the Full Alphabetic Phase.

📕Keep it simple.

If your child is just starting to read or still seems unsure, review the alphabet and letter sounds. Next, look at short consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) words (top, cat, fog, and so on) and have your child break them apart into their individual sounds. Then blend these sounds back together (/t/ /o/ /p/; top)

📗A little practice can lead to improvement.

Talk or play games about letter sounds for fewer than five minutes a day. While driving, give your child some two-letter words and three-letter words to spell (like see, look, up, go). Keep the activities fun and light so kids can enjoy a quick challenge and get a boost of confidence from practicing one skill a day.

📓Be a word detective.

What sound does each letter make in this word on the cereal box? (Point to the word “POPS.” Your child points to each letter and says the sound /p/ /o/ /p/ /s/ then blends the sounds together “pops.”) Research suggests that seeing print, saying the sounds, and hearing the sounds while pointing at the letter has a significant impact on learning sounds.

📔Scavenger hunt.

To support your child in learning letter blends (tr, sw, st, sp, sn, sm, sl, sc, pl, gr, fl, dr, cr, cl, br, and bl) play scavenger hunt. Write one blend on a piece of paper, give it to your child and have them say the sound the blend makes. Give your child a bag and give them a set amount of time to find five objects that start with the blend on the paper. Give clues or suggestions to help them identify objects (br – bread, brush, bracelet, branch, brown).

Join us next week as we complete our review of the four phases of Linnea Ehri’s “Phases of Development in Learning to Read and Spell Words.” We will examine the final two phases, the Full Alphabetic Phase and the Consolidated Alphabetic Phase and provide information on how to support your child in becoming a joyful and confident reader.

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!

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