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Birmingham Housing Authority Launches Youth Summer Reading Program

HABD President/CEO David A. Northern Sr. kicked off the authority's Youth Summer Reading program this week. (PROVIDED PHOTO)

The Housing Authority of the Birmingham District this week kicked off its Youth Summer Reading program by bringing together young people for an in-person and virtual book reading led by HABD’s President/CEO David A. Northern, Sr.

The first book in the series was by author Ben Clement called “Timmy Took a Knee”.  Clement was a special guest and joined the book reading virtually. In his children’s book Clement presents a peaceful protest march through the eyes of a young Black girl named Tanisha and a white boy named Timmy, who valiantly takes a knee. Through the book, Clement attempts to lend a literary hand to help children gain a better understanding of the Black Lives Matter movement and the social issues that led to it.

Clement said it’s always an honor to share his work with young people and the main objective for him is to provide a platform for discussion and exploration of issues at hand.

“These are very difficult issues to discuss how to address when you talk about systemic racism, police brutality, bigotry and discrimination. These are difficult subjects for anyone to address, particularly Black people who are most affected by those issues. So, I hope mostly to provide that platform and more importantly for young people to take advantage of that platform and to begin their own discussions of solutions to those problems,” he said.

Several children joined the book reading along with HABD’s Community Engagement staff. The youths were very attentive, moved and inspired by its message as they read along. The kids all agreed the author left them feeling motivated and they gained meaningful insight about the continued fight for social change and equal justice.

“I think this is a good book to read and it encourages teenagers and older people to stand up no matter how right or wrong people think you are,” said J.C., who lives in North Birmingham Homes. “ Stand up for what’s right!  Also, it teaches us how we can all come together and agree and disagree without violence.  This book also lets you know history is very important and it’s important to learn and know your history; and you can talk about how you feel about different things that have happened historically.”

Tavorus “TJ” Pouncy, 12, who lives in Elyton Village, said, “The book was saying that you must always tell your truth and do what’s right no matter what. It’s important to say and stand up for what you know is right, because right or wrong will always follow you.”

Tyler Cunningham, who lives in Tom Brown Village, said, “The book was inspirational. It inspired me to stand up for more things and I’m usually one who is shy and hides in the crowd. This book and author encouraged me to be a leader.”

Northern said he thoroughly enjoyed reading Clement’s book to HABD’s youth and is familiar with the author’s work.  As an executive at his previous job with the Housing Authority of Champaign County in Illinois, Northern read Clement’s book “You missed a Spot!” to the youth and said he is happy to introduce Clement’s work to another young audience.

Northern said “Timmy Took a Knee” may include content that is tough for children to digest because it includes sensitive topics, “but I believe it’s necessary for them to be socially aware of matters that they have the ability to change through their voices and peaceful actions.

“There’s a valuable lesson for the youth to learn from the movement that unfolded following the deaths of too many unarmed Black men and women in America,” Northern continued. “Based on the responses from the youth after the book reading, they truly got the right message. I hope this book provides inspiration for their future involvement in and commitment to social change.”

Here’s a synopsis of the book: Following the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and others, Black Lives Matter became the civil rights movement of our lifetime. But despite noble intentions, many Americans only see angry riots and destruction, instead of civil disobedience and a courageous struggle for racial equality and justice. Tanisha is young, gifted, and unapologetically Black. Although she only met Timmy briefly at a Black Lives Matter rally, she tells how Timmy came to be there, and more importantly, how this white child knelt before a legion of riot police to inspire a civil rights movement.