A Grass Roots Response to Education Inequity – by Deborah Levine

Carvent ‘Leon’ Webb II is the Founder/CEO of The Open Book Foundation based in Charlotte, North Carolina. He created the nonprofit organization in 2013 to bridge the gap between Title I schools and literacy competency. The African American men involved with the nonprofit could no longer sit on the sidelines and watch the education system in these low-income communities deteriorate. According to Webb, “We realized the best way to counteract the decline was through the promotion of literacy.”

Pursuing a vision of education equity, the nonprofit purchases and donates books to Title I elementary schools, especially in impoverished communities. In its short existence, the Open Book Foundation has provided more than 20,000 new books to 850 classrooms. Over the past three years, the organization’s outreach has expanded, providing books to schools in eleven states from Florida to New York, from Washington D.C. to Illinois. As part of its Global Readership Program, the Foundation now partners with schools in Cameroon and North Kenya.

The 2016 goal is to donate 25,000 new books to Title I elementary schools across the USA. In the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System alone, The Open Book Foundation will donate 10,000 books as part of Mayor Jennifer Robert’s Education Initiative. The Foundation’s impact is long-term, according to teacher Raven Corders. “These are young black males coming into predominately minority schools and showing students that they hold the power to change their circumstances. It’s a message many of my former students still keep close to them.”

Encouraging family and community engagement, the Foundation created the Readers are Leaders Program, Author’s Den, Breakfast with Badges, and Run to Read. These opportunities allow parents, teachers, administrators, and students to engage in literacy activities. Webb explains, “It’s time we eliminate the excuses and re-establish accountability for everyone. We all have a role to play in our students’ success.” Anthony Davis, Chairman of the Foundation’s Board, describes the appeal of these programs, “When you hear the passion in Leon’s voice about education, and you see the expressions of gratitude on the teachers faces when books are delivered you can’t help but be involved.”

The organization’s goals include inspiring others, especially African-American men, to become invested in educating future leaders. The Foundation collaborates with organizations that share core principals emphasizing manhood, fortitude, community service, and leadership. It created partnerships with the Urban League and 100 Black Men Chapters, campus groups such as Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc., and fraternal organizations like Prince Hall Masonic Lodges. The Open Book Foundation is an agent of change and hope in communities that need both, and a model for how to make a difference.


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