A Temple University student created the Kitabu Club for young students in North Philly

A book club for black youth in North Philadelphia will begin July 1. The goal? Keep kids aged 8 to 12 engaged during the summer months by having them read about characters they can connect with.

“[A] lot of our children are reading below grade level and it gets even worse during the summer,” said Carol Smith, executive director of Beckett Life Center. “In the summer months they really get disconnected from school and any scholastic activities whatsoever.” The center, at 16th and Master streets, will host meetings of the club.

Each of the five books in what has been dubbed “The Kitabu Club” is centered around a black main character and a historical event that has critically affected black people. Cofounder Musu Taylor, 21, wanted to provide the kids with history they could contextualize.

Taylor hopes the book club will help address the lack of educational resources in low-income neighborhoods. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, children in low-income families are less likely to be read aloud to. Kitabu, which will meet every week for 10 weeks, is an opportunity for children to keep reading and learning while school’s out for the summer.

The 2017 reading list includes:

  • Frederick Douglas: The Last Day of Slavery by William Miller
  • The People Could Fly by Virginia Hamilton
  • Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
  • One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
  • The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow

“In places like North Philly, where property tax isn’t as high as somewhere like Bryn Mawr,” Taylor observed, “[schools] don’t get as much money to help kids get the proper education they deserve.”

Credit: Courtesy of Musu Taylor

The Education Law Center reported in March that Pennsylvania was about $3 billion to $4.5 billion short in giving out public school funds. The ELC has a long-standing lawsuit pending against the commonwealth for not providing an “efficient system of public education” as outlined in the state’s constitution.

“A lot of times children don’t get to keep a book and fully understand it, and there’s like 50 kids in one class,” Taylor said. “They might not be understanding what’s going on, and they might not get called on. There’s a ripple effect, and it’s all because there isn’t enough money going into the school system.”

Center for Literacy, a Philly organization that provides adult literacy programs, reported last year that 37 percent of Philadelphians are low literate, meaning they’re unable to perform reading and writing tasks necessary to get by in society or hold a job.

If The Kitabu Club is successful this summer, Taylor hopes it will spread throughout the city. But she isn’t afraid to dream big. Her ultimate goal is for the book club to be available across the country.

A Temple University legal studies major, she interned last fall at the Education Law Center and took a course called “The Black Child: Socialization and Development.” She told The Tab Temple these experiences made her realize the lack of agency and safe spaces available to black children in underserved communities, so she decided to take action.

“It’s all about means,” Taylor said. “I’m lucky enough to have access to a lot of people, but i’m sure this is something that people have wanted for a long time.”

So far, the GoFundMe page for the book club has only raised $215 out of the $3,000 goal, but that won’t stop it from moving forward. Taylor and her cofounder Zaréya Lewis will pay out of pocket when needed, and continue to raise money on the GoFundMe until the end of the summer.

“There were a lot of things we wanted to do aside from the book club, like a trip for the kids and book bags,” Taylor said, “but as of right now we have enough to get the books that we need.”