Westwood High School recognized Black History Month with a variety of programs, including a recent African-American Read-In (AARI). The event was modeled after the national AARI, which is described as “the nation’s first and oldest event dedicated to diversity in literature.” According to the National Council of Teachers of English, it was established in 1990 and has reached more than six million participants around the world.
According to Principal Sean Bevan, the idea came to Westwood from high school librarian Theresa Fisher, who had participated in a read-in at her previous school. When she approached him about doing it here, Bevan said it would be a good idea for WHS.
“We had heard feedback from students that we weren’t doing enough to recognize Black History Month and honor black Americans,” he said. “This seemed like exactly the kind of thing we could do to address that.”
With that go-ahead, Fisher led the charge to coordinate the event, which Bevan said generated a lot of energy and interest. On February 7, two different class periods were dedicated to the read-in. Each event drew about 40 students to the library.
“Our library is the physical centerpiece of the school,” said Bevan. “We transformed the space around this event. It was perfect for it.”
Marquise Laudano is senior at WHS and was one of the students who helped organize the read-in. He is a student of color who lives in Boston, but has been coming to school in Westwood since 2012. He was excited to see how the district was recognizing Black History Month.
“I feel like when I was at home, we’d talk about Black History Month as a big deal. It was all over television and you would read about it, but when I would get to school, [there was] nothing.”
He said the read-in is a simple idea that is also very effective. He, Fisher and WHS METCO Director Sheryl Goodloe were part of the team that worked to create an event that would be welcoming to everyone. It featured a wide variety of content, including selected readings from writers like Zora Neal Hurston and Langston Hughes. Students shared quotes from Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama. There were also items that touched on current social issues, like police violence and the controversy surrounding former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
“We gave the students a full choice in what they wanted to share,” said Bevan. “I was a little nervous about that, but had high hopes that it would work out well. In the end, it couldn’t have gone better. It was great.”
“It was full room and I love full rooms. It made me so happy,” said Laudano. “People were really interested in what was happening and there was a lot of joy around it all.”
Other students who took part felt the same. Bridget Slocum is a junior at WHS and shared the Maya Angelou poem “Still I Rise” at the read-in.
“I feel that this event brings us together more as people rather than students that simply pass each other in the hall,” she said. “We are able to share something that we find important, which not only contributes to this event, but also shows a bit about ourselves to our peers.”
As for the future, everyone involved is eager to see the read-in become an annual event – something the school is already planning on.
“I would love to see this event happen again here at Westwood,” said junior Jillian Jenkins. “It gives us a better sense of community and closeness that we probably wouldn't have without this.”
“Westwood can be a bubble,” said Laudano. “You don’t always know what it can be like for different kinds of kids in different kinds of places. But whenever you can get a glimpse of it, it’s exciting. Literally seconds after it was over, I knew we had to keep it up.”
Principal Bevan took part in the read-in, along with Superintendent Emily Parks and Assistant Superintendent Allison Borchers. He said he is prepared to see it come back next year - and for many years after that.
“Someday we’ll look back on this, after it’s become a staple, and wonder why we didn’t start it sooner.”