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Reading is important

The One World Literacy Foundation explains, “Reading is how we discover new things and how we develop a positive self-image. The ability to read is a vital skill in being able to function in today’s society. Reading is important because it helps to expand the mind and develops the imagination.”

Echoing these sentiments, popular author Neil Gaiman says, “Literacy is more important than ever it was, in this world of text and email, a world of written information. We need to read and write, we need global citizens who can read comfortably, comprehend what they are reading, understand nuance and make themselves understood.”

The National Endowment for the Arts notes, “Literature inspires, enriches, educates and entertains. It reminds us that there is beauty and joy in language, that others have insights worth paying attention to, that in our struggles we are not alone.” Furthermore, NEA cites scientific evidence confirming that reading for pleasure reduces stress, improves empathy, helps students achieve better test scores, slows the onset of dementia, and encourages citizens to become more active and aware.

To support all these benefits, and in conjunction with its own Quality Enhancement Plan, “iRead, iLead, iSucceed: A Commitment to Literacy,” Southside Virginia Community College applied for NEA grant funding to conduct an NEA Big Read program across the communities in our service area. Through a competitive process, the SVCC was selected as one of 75 applicants representing institutions across the nation to receive an award.

The title chosen for SVCC’s NEA Big Read is “A Lesson before Dying” by Earnest J. Gaines. Set in Louisiana during the 1940s, the novel tells the story of a young, uneducated black man who has been incarcerated and sentenced to death for his alleged participation in the murder of a white storekeeper. A college-educated black man who teaches in a nearby plantation school befriends him. Together, both men search for ways to live with dignity.

SVCC’s NEA Big Read program is currently in full swing, and I’d like to invite you to participate in a book discussion and one of the slated special events. Here’s a sampling: A panel discussion will be held at the Robert Russa Moton Museum in Farmville Feb. 21, beginning at 5:30 p.m. A movie adaptation of the book, starring Cicely Tyson, Mekhi Phifer and Don Cheadle, will be shown at the Brunswick County Library in Lawrenceville March 11, at 6 p.m. The Longwood University Jazz band will present a concert of songs related to the book and time period at SVCC’s Daniel Campus in Keysville March 26, at 5 p.m. For more details and additional information, visit SVCC’s website at www. southside.edu.

DR. AL ROBERTS is president of Southside Virginia Community College, an institution of higher learning that provides a wide variety of education opportunities to a diverse student population. He can be reached via email at al.roberts@southside.edu.