Meet the Book Industry Association of Jamaica’s inaugural Literacy Heroes

Did you know that Jamaica has its very own Literacy Heroes? Well, you might say this is nothing new. Teachers, parents, readers, writers, homework helpers, and many others across the island would fall under this category – and most are “unsung” heroes.

But the Book Industry Association of Jamaica wants to introduce us to four really special Literacy Heroes, selected after an intense national competition. Latoya West-Blackwood, a tireless champion of literacy, tells us more below. I really hope that private sector players will jump on board to support this initiative. It seems to me to be a “win-win,” all round; and an investment in Jamaica’s future. To me, “national development” is about people, strong and empowered communities. This initiative encapsulates all of that, and more!

Congratulations to these four really impressive Literacy Heroes!

KINGSTON, JAMAICA – Monday, February 27, 2023 – The Book Industry Association of Jamaica (BIAJ) is pleased to announce the inaugural winners of the Literacy Hero Award.

The four winners were selected from over 100 nominations submitted by individuals and organisations representing 10 of Jamaica’s 14 parishes. The inaugural cohort includes a sustainable community library project, a social media reading campaign led by a mother and son duo, a mobile bookstore and bibliotheraphy project, and a foundation established to honour the memory of a beloved “bookworm” sister. 

According to BIAJ Director of Special Projects and conceptualizer of the award, Latoya West-Blackwood, the  launch of the Literacy Heroes Award is a milestone moment in the history of the organisation and also their way of marking the start of a new era during the country’s 60th year of independence. “At the core of reimagining and reigniting a nation for greatness, must be a vision for literacy. Without this vision we leave our youth in an extremely vulnerable position to face a present and future driven by knowledge. We are extremely grateful for the funding support provided by the GrassROOTS Community Foundation and the National Education Association of America via their Read Across America Ambassador, Marley Dias.” 

West-Blackwood further added that “The award is only the beginning, we see a world of opportunities to highlight and help to scale impactful projects while pairing our membership with external innovators to create meaningful social impact partnerships and new economic opportunities. We are also making a special appeal to corporate partners to come onboard and help us to grow this initiative from strength to strength.”

The awardees will receive a medal plus a cash grant of $75,000 each, and a special youth award of $25,000 at an awards ceremony to be held on Wednesday March 8th. These prizes are made possible thanks to the kind partnership and support of GrassROOTS Community Foundation and National Education Association (NEA).

The Awardees 

Rachael McDonald – Di Cawna Library

Di Cawna Library is located in Rose Town, on the corner of Duff & Moore Streets in South St. Andrew. The project is led by Rachael McDonald a trained educator and early childhood specialist. Di Cawna was designed to support Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) number 4 and 11, and therefore promotes access to quality education, for adults and children to contribute to sustainable and peaceful communities. Three repurposed refrigerators – now bookshelves – allow people to borrow, read and return books  at any time. There are also programmed activities to support mental health, the environment, and positive thinking. The initiative was birthed out of consultation with key community members who expressed a desire for support to elevate the literacy rate among the children and adults. 

The project is now expanding into other communities, as the model has successfully worked in Rose Town and benefited surrounding communities. There are plans to launch new Cawna libraries in Montego Bay, Bull Bay, and Treasure Beach this year. 

They can be found on Instagram @ForTheFUNJa.

Kirk Scarlett – I-Nation Books and Necessities

I-Nation Books and Necessities was initially created as a mobile Pan-African bookstore two decades ago after founder, Kirk Scarlett was unsuccessful in his search for Pan-African literature in local bookstores. His passion for inspiring change in the youth in his community led him to using the power of books to make a difference. I-Nation can even be credited for feeding the minds of now-established reggae artists Jah9, Protoje and Kabaka Pyramid. Today, he has built a successful social impact business selling and donating books annually. His most recent donation was a batch of financial books to the beneficiaries of a financial literacy forum hosted by NATTY Platforms and Stocks on The Rocks in Tivoli Gardens. 

I-Nation also launched a reading programme for children at Devon House where celebrities volunteer their time to read and reason with the guidance of volunteer host by Dr. Amina Blackwood Meeks. 

Find out more about this powerful movement on Instagram at @ination_books_necessities.

Simone Sobers – The Winsome Wishes For Kids Foundation

The Winsome Wishes For Kids Foundation since its launch in 2021 has worked to assist struggling learners as a core part of its mission. A philanthropist at heart, and inspired by the love of books of her late sister Winsome, Sobers set out to serve the local community of Jamaican children living with intellectual disabilities. Winsome Wishes For Kids Foundation focuses on equipping teachers with innovative tools to match students’ various learning styles, and most importantly, provide access to literature to nurture a positive relationship with reading. Through strategic partnerships and with the support of donors, the foundation has partnered with 8 schools islandwide and donated 235 books, directly reaching 105 students. Their 2022 summer camp, held over 3 weeks, achieved the goal of supporting these children to become highly proficient in literacy and increased their levels and love for reading dramatically.

To learn more and connect with them online, follow @wwforkids. 

Marion Carter & Luca Phillips – @thisboyisbooked

Mom Marion Carter & son Luca Phillips started an online community on Instagram (@thisboyisbooked) where they share their love for books and reading with their followers. This initiative started from Carter sharing books that Luca was reading on her personal page and getting questions from viewers, most also being fellow parents.  The books shared were deliberately chosen to reflect Caribbean culture, history, and experiences that Marion wanted Luca and other children to relate to. Today, the page is a growing resource for parents, educators, or anyone who wants to easily identify fun and educational books with positive cultural representations. @ThisBoyIsBooked helps parents and guardians learn how to get children into reading as a habit from early, as a fundamental belief of Carter’s is that reading should not be a punishment, but a fun way to bond, share stories, and nurture values and attitudes. This team wants to get more Jamaicans and Caribbean people to support local children’s book authors and read Jamaican/Caribbean. Their latest effort has been collecting children’s books to donate to children in need via schools, homes and community libraries. 

Connect with Marion and Luca on IG at @thisboyisbooked. 

About the Book Industry Association of Jamaica (BIAJ)

The Book Industry Association of Jamaica is longest established trade association in the English-speaking Caribbean, and has worked for over 30 years to engender a national reading and knowledge culture through accessible literature, indigenous publishing, and respect for copyright. The BIAJ is an umbrella industry organization representing members who are publishers, distributors, booksellers, digital creators, authors and other valuable players in the book industry. Since 1989, the BIAJ has worked to promote literacy, and the habit of reading, while promoting reading for fun through the flagship event, Kingston Book Festival (KBF). The BIAJ is committed to the promotion of literacy and reading as tools for change, development, inclusive prosperity, and cultural preservation.

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