GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The foundation of a person's education begins with early childhood literacy - but there are many factors and reasons why children might not reach their reading potential.
Men of Color Read is on a mission to make sure children of color reach their reading potential and in return, eradicate functional illiteracy in the urban core.
"Even though we're reading to kids," said Jon Covington, founder of Men of Color Read. "I don't know who gets more out of it, the kids or the men, because there is a feeling of just gratitude, humility, and gratefulness."
A few times a month, the Men of Color Read group heads to various West Michigan elementary schools, primarily across Kent County and Muskegon County.
"They're sponges. They look up at us and you think, 'man, I'm doing something right with my life in this moment'," said Covington.
Volunteers with the group have a variety of backgrounds, but all share one commonality - being men of color with a passion for childhood literacy advocacy.
Huemartin Robinson, one of the many volunteers, says he remembers the impact reading had on him as a child.
"I remember literacy being very, you know, something that was put in the forefront in my home. You know, but maybe not everybody has the type of parent that I had," said Huemartin Robinson, volunteer for Men of Color Read. "Having the ability to be able to sit in front of them and just talk with them about letters, books, and comprehension. What that can do for you and just looking at their faces and their reactions to the books that you may be reading is invaluable. So that's why I do it."
One of the main focuses of Men of Color Read is to eradicate functional illiteracy, but it's also making sure children see themselves in the men that read to them, as role models who love to read.
"We wanted them to see men who look like them. We thought it was very, very important for representation. Although men of color read is actually open to anybody," said Covington.
With each story read the group hopes to combat statistics like this Michigan State University study, which stated in October of 2021 that 13 percent of all black third-graders in Michigan had low enough reading scores for retainment.
"Meaning that they do not progress to the next grade," said Covington when asked what retainment meant for low reading scores. "So, if we can help eradicate the functional illiteracy, then those numbers come down."
So, one story at a time, Covington and the volunteers of Men of Color Read hope kids will see themselves and be inspired to reach their own reading potential - and inspire the community to do their part too.
"I wish the need wasn't there, but it is," said Covington. "So, from that standpoint, it feels great to know that we can be of service to our community. We all live in the community together. And it takes all of us in the community to be better."