Takeyla Benton saw an achievement gap and a reading gap between black and white students in Madison and she wasn’t going to wait for those to close on her own. With her own 10-year-old son in mind, she has started a book club initiative – We Read Too – for young African-American boys in Madison. Their first meet-up will be this Saturday at Goodman South Madison Branch Library.

“The Book Club is geared primarily towards black boys right now but I’m going to eventually open it up to all boys of color,” Benton tells Madison365. “I started it to help address the problems we have in town with the educational gap and achievement gap and there is a huge reading gap, especially for black boys, where they just seem to be lagging behind with their reading scores and reading comprehension.

“Even with my son [Langston], who is 10 years old and in fourth grade, I struggle with getting him interested in books and struggle with trying to find books for him that he will be interested in … books that feature characters of color in the library,” she adds. “They are pretty much non-existent in the schools.”

Benton liked the idea of getting her son together with other boys to explore different books, to read together and to talk about concepts and ideas from the books. “My son [Langston] was like, ‘Let’s do a book club!’ and I came across an article of a little boy who started one in his town,” Benton says. “That kind of gave me a little fuel to think I could do this and start thinking about getting boys together to meet regularly, have fun, develop a love of reading and hopefully boost some test scores in the process.”

Takeyla Benton

The very first meeting of We Read Too book club will take place Saturday, Nov. 4, noon-2 p.m. at the Goodman South Madison Branch Library, who are partnering with Benton so the kids will also have access to a variety of everything the library has to offer.

“We’ll have an introduction to get to know each other and talk about the books we like and the different connections we have. The boys will get an idea on how important reading is,” Benton says. “Will Glenn from the library will come in and give them an overview of the library space and talk to them about how to check out books, where to find books, how to look things up. He will help me show the boys where different genres are located so we can start having the boys explore this. There will be an opportunity to sign up for a library card if they don’t have one.

“This will be a nice quick overview and then we’ll really start getting into the meat of things during the next week as we really start talking about reading for enjoyment, reading for comprehension, etc.,” she adds.

Benton explains the rationale behind calling the book club We Read Too. “I’m working on developing writing workshops for women of color to give us a space to read and write in the community where it doesn’t cost $500 or $600 for a workshop,” she says. “The name of that workshop is called ‘We Write Too.” So, I thought, let me play on that and do We Read Too.

South Madison Branch Library

“Another reason for the name We Read Too and also We Write Too is because these are traditionally spaces you don’t see black people dominate or celebrate like others such as sports or music, so giving power and saying, Yes, we read, too, and we write, too, as a name gives confidence that we belong and can succeed in those areas.”

The book club organizing is a one-woman show right now, but Benton is looking forward to collaborating and partnering in the future.

“Jamaal Eubanks is going to help me out as we progress because I also want to add a mentoring component to it where they can talk to other guys where reading is a fundamental part of their job or education,” Benton says. “I want the boys to be able to see the different avenues that they can go with career paths and how literacy can help with jobs.

“I also want to deal with issues of bullying and peer pressure. I’m trying to solve as many little problems as I can without being too much ‘in your face’ of these kids,” she adds.

We Read Too is geared toward boys grades 4th through 7th with the aim of fostering a love exploring their world through reading. The goal is to meet once a month and for the program to grow. Benton envisions having a summer camp for the boys as the program grows.

“Right now, I’m just looking at the South Madison Branch Library – they are going to help me out a lot,” she says. “But if other libraries want to tag on then maybe we can start hitting different sides of the town and that way other kids will have opportunities.

“I’m really excited about it,” Benton adds. “Hopefully, we can get some boys out and it picks up and people really love it. I really want to get these boys to start loving reading … or at least liking it a little bit.”