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‘Real Men’ to Boys in Birmingham-Area: Reading Key to Success 

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Comedian Rickey Smiley reads a book during I See Me, Inc.'s virtual read-in, Real Men Read. (Screengrab)
Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times 

Reading IS Fundamental. 

That was the message of I See Me Inc.’s, 11th annual “Real Men Read: You Can Be Virtually Anything if You Can Read” held via YouTube Livestream on Friday. 

Organizers noted the event was different than past readings.

“Normally when we host this event, it is held in an auditorium, filled with boys and men using literature as a means to evoke conversation,” said Devon Frazier, founder and executive director of I See Me. “At I See Me, we feel that it is very important that our boys see books in the hands of a man. We want our boys to equate literacy with success . . . Our boys can’t be what they can’t see.”

The COVID-19 pandemic did not stop featured book readings that included Frank Adams, CEO of the A.G. Gaston Boys and Girls Club; Pastor Mike McClure Jr., Senior Pastor of Rock City Church Birmingham, and Rickey Smiley, comedian and host of the Rickey Smiley Morning Show and a Birmingham native.  

I See Me Inc., is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline by increasing the literacy rates in children of color. The Read-In took place during the National Read Across America Week.

“Reading is the key to being able to unlock the destiny that you want and what it is you enjoy doing,” said Perren King, executive director of the McDonald’s Magic City Classic presented by Coca-Cola. “The program is really designed to ensure that at this young age when you are learning and everything is becoming new to you. It does not matter where you start or where you grow up, if you have a hunger to succeed you can be virtually anything you want to be. Start with reading.”

Adams read “Dear Black Boy,” by former NFL player Martellus Bennett. 

“It is about how you can achieve anything as a young Black man in this world if you set your heart and mind to it,” said Adams. “Anything is possible if you apply yourself and we are all here to support you along that journey.

McClure read “I Believe I Can,” by Grace Byers with illustrations by Keturah A. Bobo. 

“I know my power lies within, there is nothing that can hold me down. My presence matters in this world, my life is worthy, there’s a plan. I know I can do anything if only I believe I can,” said McClure reading an excerpt from the book. 

“You heard that reading is fundamental, it helps you develop so many skills and I believe that it is critical that we maximize every opportunity we have to read,” added McClure. “I love you and I want you to know that God has a plan for your life. Continue to do great in school and know that the best is yet to come.” 

Reading an excerpt from “I Am Every Good Thing,” by Derek Barnes and Gordon C. James, Smiley said “I’m the perfect beat, the perfect rhyme, keeping everything on point and always on time. I am a Grand Slam, bases fully loaded. I’m a nasty two-handed dunk, holding onto the rims to remind you that I’m still the man. I am the undisputed champion, I am the highlight reel of magnificence. I am the celebration, the applause and the standing ovation. I am victory!”

The book is a great way to teach kids they can do or be anything, Smiley said. 

“This is a good educational piece that all kids need because they need to know that they are great, they are wonderful and there are not a lot of textbooks out there that is like this,” he said.