6 PROMOTING AFRICAN AMERICAN WRITERS Step Two: This involves recruiting a working group or committee to plan your program. During the pre–program planning stage, the planning group can help generate theme ideas for programs or, if a theme has already been decided on in Step One, how to implement the theme within the program. Invite into the discussion some persons who are demographically represen- tative of segments of the audience that the library hopes to attract to the program. Bring into the discussion some library outsiders’ perspectives. Holding brainstorming sessions on theme ideas may provide vital informa- tion about the wants and needs of both the library’s regular patron base and potential new library users. For example, in 2016, a coalition group named the Springfield African American Read-In (AARI), of which I was a part, chose the theme “African American Memories and Stories” for a Black History Month (BHM) cele- bration, anticipating that we could draw from a variety of writing and per- formance talents for a program or programs. The coalition group had prior success working with high school and middle school groups to perform African American poetry, spoken word, and choir music. The group had also developed a partnership with the Springfield Art Museum, which gave us free use of the museum auditorium with seating for about 400 persons. The “African American Memories and Stories” program attracted an audience of students, parents, teachers, and other interested community supporters that nearly filled the auditorium. The Springfield AARI decided to hold a second program that year with a unique book discussion. Titled “A Visit with the Principals,” it featured a panel of current and retired African American principals of the local public school system who were slated to share stories about their careers and to comment on the stories of two African American males who grew up in the 1990s in Baltimore, Maryland, as told in the book The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore. The book, a New York Times best- seller, is based on a true story of the fate of two fatherless males born a few blocks from each other but whose lives took dramatically different turns— one becoming a Rhodes Scholar, a White House Fellow, and army officer, the other becoming a drug dealer involved in a robbery that resulted in a mur- der and a life sentence prison conviction. The book was also chosen as the “common reader” for the 2015–2016 freshman class at Missouri State Uni- versity, a Springfield AARI organizational partner. The panel discussion was held on the campus of Drury University, also a Springfield AARI organiza- tional partner. The panel was made up of four of the six principals who had led local Springfield public schools: Ferba Lofton (retired), Alana Lyles (retired), Nate Quinn (retired), and Nicole Holt (active). The panel was moderated by another African American public school leader—longtime mentor, teacher, and middle school counselor Gloria Morris. Following the panelist presentations, members of the audience actively asked the panelists questions.
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