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Yancey's annual fair gives 50,000 books to Hub kids

Sandra Larson | 4/8/2009, 6:14 a.m.
City Councilor Charles C. Yancey (center) is surrounded by children at this year’s book fair, which he has hosted since 1987. Yancey says that enthusiasm for the annual event seems to grow with each passing year. Sandra Larson

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City Councilor Charles C. Yancey (center) is surrounded by children at this year’s book fair, which he has hosted since 1987. Yancey says that enthusiasm for the annual event seems to grow with each passing year.

An overflow crowd packed Dorchester’s Prince Hall Grand Lodge last Saturday for the 23rd annual Charles C. Yancey Book Fair. Some families waited outside on the drizzly afternoon, hoping to catch some of the fair’s musical and dance acts and take home a backpack full of new books.

“The level of enthusiasm seems to grow each year,” said Yancey, the city councilor who has hosted the book fair every year since 1987. In that time, more than 400,000 new books have been given to over 20,000 Boston children, according to Yancey spokesman Kenneth Yarbrough.

At last Saturday’s event, volunteers distributed 50,000 books donated by publishers, local businesses and individuals.

Before receiving their books, the audience watched three hours of performances and speeches, peppered with reminders about the power of reading.

“Think positively and believe in your ability to rise,” said Kevin Wayne Thomas of TOUCH 106.1 FM, one of the fair’s MCs.

“You’re not going to jail, do you agree with that?” Thomas called out to the youth in the crowd, and then asked, “Parents, will you stand with me to say these kids will become readers?”

Boston Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Carol R. Johnson stepped on stage to lead a cheer.

“Give me an R!” she shouted “Give me an E! Give me an A! Give me a D! What does that spell? What are you going to do?” The audience responded with a deafening “READ!” to each question.

City Councilor Chuck Turner struck a more somber tone.

“I was raised to believe that our struggles were to bring us into leadership positions,” Turner said from the stage, “but we won’t be able to if we don’t learn how to read, and take ourselves and our minds seriously.”

Ego E. Ezedi, who lost a spirited bid for Yancey’s District 4 City Council seat in 2003 and is a candidate for an at-large seat on the council this year, was in the audience.

“We can talk about the importance of education, but this event really brings home the importance of books and reading,” said Ezedi, who has taken a leave of absence from his job as executive director of the Roxbury YMCA to campaign full-time.

By event’s end, everyone still waiting outside was allowed to come in, said Yarbrough. Finally, all of the kids, clad in bright orange “Read to Lead” T-shirts, formed a line that snaked along the side of the room.

Volunteers reached into bins labeled by grade level and handed each child a black backpack. The packs contained 10 books for the oldest youths and up to 45 books for the pre-kindergarten crowd.

As families exited the building, the wind-whipped rain sparked a flurry of coat-zipping and umbrella-raising. Children were hurried along, the treasure on their backs waiting to be examined at home.

“Today, we say thank you,” said Bishop Arthur F. Jack of Dorchester’s Holy Tabernacle Church in his closing benediction. “And now, let us take with us those things that will improve our lives and make us better citizens.”