At Thurgood Marshall High, reading is a new passion for one group of students `Books' is password for males-only club

April 04, 2007|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,Sun Reporter

At Thurgood Marshall High, where reading scores are routinely low, an ambitious group of mostly sophomores and juniors are in a club they say grows more exclusive and popular every day.

To hear members of the school's all-male book club tell it, Thurgood Marshall's library - home to meetings that take place every two months - is the place to be seen.

"The girls in the school are upset," said junior Derrell Brown. "They want to know why they can't get copies of the books we read."

Brown, 18, is an original member of the two-year-old club, which school administrators and organizers say has increased interest in reading throughout the school.

Thurgood Marshall High failed to meet state standards in reading proficiency last year, ranking among the lowest percentage-wise in the city.

Some students, though, are enjoying reading because of the book club. Organizers wanted a males-only club so the students could discuss their opinions and feelings without the pressure of trying to impress girls.

Brown's story is not unlike many of the nearly 30 members. He says he was not much of a reader a few years ago but now goes through several books in a few weeks.

The students usually meet after school for an hour where they discuss - over pizza and sodas - the assigned book, which usually caters to their interest.

Inner-city love stories and books by hip-hop artists replace classical literature. Members recently got a chance to take an afternoon field trip to The Gallery at Harborplace and to spend time with author Daymond John, founder and chief executive officer of the FUBU fashion line.

In a 30-minute session, John discussed his book, Display of Power: How FUBU Changed a World of Fashion, Branding and Lifestyle, doling out advice to a group of teens who are in the target audience for his clothes.

FUBU, which stands for For Us, By Us, was founded in 1992 in the basement of John's mother's home in New York. His collection consists of rugby and hockey shirts, football jerseys, baseball caps, shoes and denim jeans.

John is currently on a book tour. Rarely, though, do his travels allow him a chance to address an all-male high school book club, which is why John says he rearranged his schedule to meet the students at the Downtown Locker Room, a retail store in The Gallery.

"I attribute a good amount of my success to books," he said. "I read a good amount. You can't replace the knowledge it gives you."

Antionette Perkins, a history teacher at Thurgood Marshall, stressed a similar sentiment when she, in conjunction with representatives from Downtown Locker Room, persuaded her students to start the book club.

Sensing that many of her male students needed an intellectual outlet, Perkins discussed the idea of a book club with Sherri Goodall, community outreach manager for Downtown Locker Room, which decided to sponsor the book club.

The club's size has doubled since its start.

Goodall said she hopes the book club will expand to include high schools throughout the city and grow to as many as 300 kids. Goodall is in the process of forming a book club at Dr. Samuel L. Banks High, which shares the same complex as Thurgood Marshall.

Goodall and Perkins say the club has been a success because of the success they have had in getting guest speakers. Family members of Tupac Shakur met with the book club and discussed the slain rapper's writings last fall. In January, author Eisa Nefertari Ulen led a lively discussion of her book, Crystelle Mourning.

Ulen's visit was a departure from the normal.

"This is the first book we've talked about from a female perspective," Perkins said.

Crystelle Mourning is the story of a young black woman from Philadelphia who moves to New York City but cannot get over the memory of her high school sweetheart, who was gunned down in the streets years ago.

"When I was reading, my blood pressure went down, and I just got caught up into the book," said sophomore Craig Crawford. "I had to just continue to read, and it made me want to pick up another book, then another book. I ended up completing three books while I was on Crystelle Mourning."

Crawford, 15, and his classmates peppered the New York author with questions about why she took the book in a certain direction. Ulen, in turn, fired questions back at the students, broadening the discussion to life at an inner-city school.

"Do you all feel safe in the city?" Ulen asked.

"You have to be on guard," Brown said. "I don't like anybody behind me."

Later, Ulen added, "I wanted to learn from them what was really going on in their lives."

Brown said he tackled much of Crystelle Mourning in his home, his designated reading place.

He lives with his mother and a younger brother in a house near his school. He says he is working through a handful of other books, including one on the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., in addition to a personal project involving his brother.

"Now, I'm trying to get him to read," Brown said.

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