Local youth celebrate heritage during National African American Read-In

Photos Courtesy of Community Access Unlimited
Above, from left, Aalyha Dezen, Natalie Florez and Crystal Jackson perform during a local National African American Read-In event.

ELIZABETH, NJ — A National African American Read-In was recently hosted by Community Access Unlimited, a Union County–based nonprofit that aims to integrate people with disabilities and at-risk youth into the general community. About 20 young attendees performed songs written or recorded by black artists.

“National Read-In is about helping our youth members celebrate Black History Month and their heritage and culture,” said Howard Wingard, assistant director in CAU’s Transitional Opportunities Program. “We also want them to appreciate the importance of reading in their education.”
The National African American Read-In, established in 1990 by the Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English, is the nation’s first and oldest event dedicated to diversity in literature.

Crystal Jackson, a CAU member living in the state’s child welfare system, sang Whitney Houston’s “I Look to You.” She said she chose the song because of its personal significance.

“That is my favorite song,” she said. “It got me through a lot when I was down.”
Barshay Stinson, 23, performed a rap song he wrote.

“It’s about letting people look at my inner life,” he said. “I’ve been through a lot, and the only way I can channel that is through my music.”
Brianna Jones, 22, sang the lyrics, “You will finally see the truth, that a hero lies in you,” from Mariah Carey’s song “Hero.”
“I’ve gone through some troubling times. but, at the same time, everybody is a hero at heart,” she said.

CAU staff member Eva Wright recited a poem by Nikki Giovanni titled “BLK History Month.” The last line of the poem reads, “You’ve got a place here, too.”