On Friday May 10th, after 46 years, Reading is Fundamental (RIF) returned home to where it was founded in 1966 by Margaret McNamara: Amidon-Bowen Elementary School. Amidon’s Principal Izabela Miller welcomed RIF President and CEO Carol Rasco, RIF Board of Director Margaret McNamara-Pastor, DC Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson, as well as RIF’s guest speaker, the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Mr. Abdul-Jabbar’s larger-than-life, 7’2” frame did not disappoint. He began the morning by tossing out potato chips to the easily excitable students while explaining potato chips were invented by innovative African-American chef, George Crum. Mr. Abdul-Jabbar then shared his own book What Color is My World – a collection of stories on African-American inventors. Finally, the NBA legend read the American children’s classic, Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendek.
Marty Welles, Amidon-Bowen PTA president said, “Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is one of the few players to play 20 years in the NBA. But his message, that his mind is his most valuable asset, is really compelling. Professional sports provide opportunities for very few, very elite athletes, but the chances are extremely great for every child at Amidon to be successful if they use their mind.”
The NBA legend echoed those same comments saying, “Education, to me, is something that enabled me to do the things I wanted to do in terms of going places and knowing things; helping to open doors.” Highlighting the personal emphasis on education in his family, the author said, “Education is everything to my family. For example, one of my sons is in residency at the LSU University Hospital [to become a doctor].” He made it a point to say, “[we] can do much more than stuff a ball through a hoop.”
Mr. Abdul-Jabbar stated that basketball should not be our student’s goal in life, learning should be. “[Reading is] the foundation for all learning. If you can’t read there’s not much you can do in life,” he said. In parting, he offered one bit of advice to the local students: “Reading is the key to knowledge, and knowledge is power. So if they want to accumulate the power and get the things they want to get in life, they’re going to have to learn how to read, and read well.”
On behalf of Amidon-Bowen, Principal Izabela Miller was honored to receive RIF’s Multicultural Book Collection, just one of 27 DC-based RIF programs to receive the Collection. In the end, Principal Miller was very happy with the success of the event, but mainly for her students.”Seeing the smiles on the faces of the children and teachers as they received their books was priceless and a great way to end the week. First grade students approached me after the event and said: ‘We are really important to them, aren’t we?’; ‘Yes, you are very important to all of us,’” she said.
She could not help but smile seeing how many students actually started reading Where The Wild Things Are on the way out of the library. Principal Miller says, “We are definitely on the right track with RIF’s support. Building personal libraries is what will help our students continue reading at home during breaks.”
By Sam Marrero and Shannon Vaughn