The Bakersfield African American Read-In Committee set out to make difference in the community nine years ago and on Sunday continued to spread that message: Reading is the key to success. The committee's primary focus is introducing reading to children early on and keeping that spark alive by having their parents encourage reading often. 

Emcee Andrea Caldwell stressed the importance of reading in the household to an audience at the Bakersfield Senior Center.

"Help stimulate reading in the household with the daily newspaper, the Bible or a storybook," she said. Caldwell also works as the director of Stepping Stones Youth, a development program that helps young adults find jobs.

Many speakers echoed a central message: it's up to parents to foster the intrigue of reading in their children. 

"Read, read, read and ask questions," committee member Joyce Bagsley said. "It's not just about vocabulary, but comprehension, too."

Attendees also received a list of Bakersfield libraries and their addresses, to which Caldwell jokingly said there was no excuse for not knowing where to find books to read. 

Caldwell also encouraged Read-In attendees to write and to put their thoughts and imaginations into poetry or the beginning of a novel. 

Initially the Read-In event didn't coincide with Black History Month, but as time went on the committee felt the connection as many of the committee members were tired of seeing youth lose sight of what was the key to success — reading. 

Two committee members, Edith Sims and Geri Spencer, said they feel younger generations are concerned with materialistic possessions and associate success with branding and status rather than knowledge. 

Spencer said there are more prominent historical figures that don't have holidays like Martin Luther King Jr. Day that hold inspiring stories and messages for youth, but without reading, younger generations might mature without knowing them. 

Sims added that there are lesser-known activists and inventors of African-American heritage. "Just by learning about them a kid could say, 'Maybe I could do that,'" she said.

Spencer said she felt that in her generation, parents focused more on education and less about possessions. 

This year's theme, "Food for the Mind," was another way the Read-In event tapped into Black History Month. While the children went off to make healthier versions of banana splits, the adults played a game of bingo that utilized the history of traditional African-American foods and drinks like collard greens and sweet tea. 

Yet many children are already feeling the spirit of reading, like Dareon Sterling, who said he goes to the library once a week. 

"I really like the 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid' books," Sterling said. "Sometimes I even read for two hours."

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