Westchester County Board of Legislators Tyrae Woodson-Samuels stopped by with a proclamation for the founders of Books and Badges. A Proclamation was bestowed to a knock out collaboration of individuals with grit and tenacity Detective David Clark MVPD, Detective Montika Jones MVPD and Author Cynthia Turnquest-Jones.
This proclamation is an official document issued by Westchester County Legislator Tyrae Woodson-Samuels on Friday, December 31, 2021. Commemorating “Books & Badges”. It brings recognition, awareness, plus appreciation to an issue David, Montika, and Cynthia fought against during Covid that is relevant and important to Westchester County. All three are Mount Vernon Residents who collaborated for years however during the height of Covid they confirmed that children reading must continue and be first.
During the height of the pandemic Cynthia Turnquest-Jones, founder of Tha Brown Urban Mother Partners, Inc. started meeting with students of Mount Vernon at the Boys and Girls Club of America. Detective David Clarke was asked to be a guest reader to discuss the book “We Still Here by Marc Lamont Hill. #MountVernonReads goal was to distribute free books to the community. The desire is for reading to become a part of the reading culture. We had over 4,500 viewers for the book discussion. Detective Clarke spoke about changing your personal narrative. Then he questioned the narrative being changed during Covid. With a distribution of more than two hundred books by Marc Lamont and interacting virtually and in person at the Boys and Girls Club, Detective welcomed the idea and told Cynthia to send the text and he will reach out to Detective Jones. Detective Montika Jones who is also the owner of Cupcake Cutie Boutique along with her daughter Miesha Stokley normally host an event for the children to decorate ginger bread homes during the December holiday. Children from far and near would gather and experience being creative. Toys, dolls, book bags, and gift cards were distributed to each participant and a story was read while they enjoyed hot coca by Cynthia. But, because of Covid Montika and Miesha knew that they could not meet in person but what about the children was always a part of these group messages.
Libraries were closed. Schools were closed. Barnes and Nobles were closed.
We figured that we would ask for donations. We were ready to send emails and letters to anyone who could become a part of a cause. Community is a powerful word. Not all communities rally around an event. Some rally around a cause. Books and Badges requires the dedication of humans to staying open to participating and becoming a part of a cause to raise awareness. Then a phone call came in. Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard alerted Cynthia about someone who wanted to donate books to the vision of #MountVernonReads. Disney called! Disney Publishing contacted Cynthia and offered her over $35,000 worth of children’s books to continue the journey of gifting books to Young Readers. They offered Pallets of books were housed at Mount Vernon Public Library. Timur Davis, Director and the library Community Liaison Cathy Webb assisted with counting and organizing the books based on age as well as advising the trio how to distribute.
It took one group text message.
We know that interrupting oppression begins with the understanding that reading is a weapon. Books and Badges believe in equipping our vulnerable young readers with the weapon of reading. We realized that just telling our young readers that it is important to read is not good enough. We came up with “Books, Badges, and Beverages.” Community children were invited to the Cupcake Cutie Boutique. They would receive a book, a delicious hot cocoa beverage, meet the author Annie Turnquest plus interact detectives from the Mount Vernon Police Department. Meeting a detective other than in a traumatic experience was another part of the vision. George Floyd was murdered seven months prior to Books, Badges and Beverages. We knew the communities of our Black and Latino were traumatized. We also understand that other races were beyond disenchanted with the system. The dilemma that the average child didn’t Even own a bible or a dictionary in their home. When was reading taking place during the shutdown?
Books, Badges, and Beverages intentionally created conversations with children about reading. A needed one. Children have much to gain from having lots and lots of books at home. It is important for us to encourage our children to read. The combination of the author and detectives was a hit. Other municipalities then joined the idea of One Book creating several goals.
We are now pushing to erect Free Little Libraries across the city of Mount Vernon. The Little Free Library book-sharing box is opened seven days a week, 24 hours a day and are freely accessible to all, removing barriers to book access. Our first Free Little Library was erected at the Mount Vernon Police Station in September 2021. Studies show beyond a shadow of a doubt that the increased number of books in or near the home, the more likely a child will gain an understanding and love to read. Little Free Libraries is a book exchange that gives and takes where the community lacks a bookstore and is defined as a book desert.
Our outcome: A racially equitable collection in homes across Westchester County took place. Filling the Academic Gap which widen during Covid19 began. Building a reading culture still continues.
Previous events include:
#MountVernonReads Boys & Girls Club October 9, 2020
Friendship PreKindergarten October 31, 2020
MVPL Garden Club November 21, 2020
#MountVernonReads Boys & Girls Club December 4, 2020
Spring Valley Police December 30, 2020
Grab & Go January 22, 2021
Greenburgh Police February 12, 2021
#MountVernonReads Boys & Girls Club February 19, 2021
Tarrytown Police March 6, 2021
End Hair Discrimination March 31, 2021
New Rochelle Police May 22, 2021
The Dole Center Reading on the Lawn June 25, 2021
South Nyack July 5, 2021
Let Girls Learn in Belize August 10th, 11th, 12th, 2021
Let Girls Learn Day in Mount Vernon October 2, 2021
Books and Badges in Mount Vernon December 31, 2021