Staff Photo by John Rawlston/Chattanooga Times Free Press LaFrederick Thirkill speaks to Baylor School students during their chapel program Monday morning. His remarks were part of Read-In Day, a celebration of African-American writers held in conjunction with Black History Month.
Baylor School students celebrated the creativity and history of black authors Monday by participating in the school's 13th annual Read-In Day.
"We read so many things and we very rarely say them aloud," said Baylor English teacher Tim Laramore. "So we like to take the opportunity to showcase what we've learned and let the language come out."
Baylor School students are among millions across the country participating in the National African-American Read-In celebration, held in February in observance of Black History Month. The event is sponsored by the Black Caucus of National Council of Teachers of English and the National Council of Teachers of English.
Chris Watkins, chairman of Baylor School's English department, helped to coordinate the event locally.
"I just want students to come to an appreciation of the literary contributions of African-Americans," Watkins said. "So often when they are studying in school they don't get as much exposure to African-American literature just because of time constraints."
Baylor students observed the day by reading selections from "Three Ways to Meet Oppression" by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Younger students read aloud poetry by black authors.
Sixth-grader Sam Crowell read "Democracy" by Langston Hughes, sixth-grader Lauren King read "Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note" by LeRoi Jones and sixth-grader Emma Flanagan read "Woman Work" by Maya Angelou.
Tenth-grader Lindsay Nation, who participated in the readings, said she "learned that ways used to be difficult for black people and we've come a long way from where we used to be."
Baylor's guest of honor Monday was local playwright, educator and musician LaFrederick Thirkill, who wrote, directed and produced "Dead Innocent: The Ed Johnson Story," which tells of the arrest, conviction and 1906 lynching of an innocent black man in Chattanooga.
Thirkill, assistant principal at Apison Elementary, will be featured in the March 4 episode of the NBC show "Who Do You Think You Are?" with entertainer Lionel Richie, whose great-grandfather is buried in Pleasant Garden Cemetery.
Thirkill started the Read-In Day by teaching students a song he had written to teach kindergarten students how to spell Chattanooga. He also shared a blues song that he wrote after a student said he didn't want to come to school.
"If we look at the statistics about the number of American kids who read and write on grade level, you see the need to enhance literacy," said Thirkill. "It shouldn't stop at a primary level. It should be celebrated and encouraged throughout the lives of students."
Using songs and plays he had written, Thirkill discussed the importance of literature while meeting with smaller student groups in classrooms.
"Black literature allowed me to dream," Thirkill said.
Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at email@example.com or 423-757-6431.
Black History Month
* EPB is sponsoring a Black History Month contest. Essays will be accepted from now until Feb. 18. The topic is blacks who have achieved historical firsts in the last 10 years, such as Colin Powell, the first black secretary of state in 2001. Prizes will be awarded. For more information, visit www.epb.net
* The 100 Black Men of Bradley County is planning its annual scholarship and mentoring banquet from 6:30-9:30 p.m. March 5 at Lee University's Deacon Jones Dining Hall. Individual ticket prices are $65 for the dinner. Tickets for the event are available through members of the 100 BMBC or the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce at 423-472-6587.
* The Chattanooga Hamilton County NAACP will host its fifth annual poetry/spoken word contest, called "Black Ink," from 12:30-2:30 p.m. on Feb. 19. It will be at the EPB Community Room at 10 W. M.L. King Blvd. in downtown Chattanooga. The deadline to enter poetry is Monday. The event is free. For more information, contact Eric Atkins at 622-7923 or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or call Cortney Davis at 315-6373 or e-mail to email@example.com.
* The Bessie Smith Cultural Center is hosting Discover Africa, a celebration of African culture that includes the exhibition "Wrapped in Pride" of culturally inspired art projects, music, dance and film. The event is scheduled at noon Thursday. Admission is $5.
* The Avondale Seventh-day Adventist School Black History Gala is scheduled for 6 p.m. Feb. 27 at the OBC Kingdom Center at 730 M.L. King Blvd. The gala features Stellar Award-winning gospel singer Kim Ruff. Food will be catered by 2010 Ace Award Chef of the Year Jernard Wells. For more information and to RSVP, call Victor Waller at 619-4104.
Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...