by Joni Richards Brodart
When talking about the library she runs in the Alameda County (Calif.) Juvenile Justice Center, Amy Cheney gets right to the point:
It’s not just about the library. It’s not even just about the books. It’s about the youth who are incarcerated here. It’s about showing them that they can change their lives. It’s about introducing them to people who have had similar experiences, who have been in gangs, or in prison, or hooked on drugs, and who have decided to change their lives and accomplished it, and then written about their experiences.“This is how I got out, and how you can get out too.” These are people the kids here can identify with, who can show them that there are options. They can choose to succeed.
Cheney has worked at the center since 1999, when a small grant allowed Alameda County Library to begin the Write to Read program, bringing in local and nationally known authors to speak to and meet the teens she serves. Today, the people she brings in are amazing, but she grew her credibility slowly and carefully. Some of the writers who have participated in the program are Terry Mcmillan, Dolores Huerta, Terence Howard, Michael Eric Dyson, Erin Gruwell and the Freedom Writers, Victor Martinez, Zlata Filipovic, Zac Unger, Victor Rivers, Cupcake Brown, Ishmael Beah, and more. Many of them come back more than once, some on an annual basis, because they see the value of what they say to the kids and the response they get.
“What these people have to say has the possibility of making a huge impact on the kids here. Dolores Huerta cofounded the United Farm Workers with Cesar Chavez, and when she came to talk about what they did and why, she had the kids in the Max Unit reading Ghandi after her visit. Ghandi!” Cheney shakes her head in wonder.
Read the rest on the PDF:
Bodart, J.R. (2008). It’s All About the Kids: Presenting Options and Opening Doors.Young Adult Library Services, 7 (1), 35-45.