Southern Miss students read to Hattiesburg elementary students

By HASKEL BURNS,

When Chloe Jackson was thinking of different projects to do as part of the Afro-American Student Organization at the University of Southern Mississippi, she knew she wanted to involve younger kids in the classroom setting.

Jackson, along with six other AASO members, found the perfect opportunity to do that by visiting different elementary schools around the Hattiesburg Public School District, reading books to children and sharing their love of literature. So far, Jackson – along with Anani James, Angeneka Meeks, Brittany Cockerham, Jada January, Jalyn Roberson and Toni Crisler – has visited Grace Christian Elementary School twice to read the book Midnight Without a Moon by author Linda Williams Jackson.

"I wanted to maybe do a mentorship program or something like that, and I thought that the reading program would be something different that not many organizations have done," said Jackson, who serves as the director of community service for the AASO. "Also, I'm really into literacy, just because it's one of the most important things the children can learn, and it's going to get them farther ahead in life."

Midnight Without a Moon, which is the 2019 Mississippi Library Association-winning book, is a children's book that tells the story of challenges faced by African Americans in the 1950s. In addition to reading the book with the children, the USM students brought along vocabulary cards to share with students in two activity classes – music and library,

"The kids love it," said Linda Owens, librarian at Grace Christian. "I just have to stand back in awe, (seeing) a child wanting to check out that book - and it is a chapter book.

"It's about civil rights, so it's about a time they don't know anything about. It's a really good story, because the author is very good about writing about different characters' point of view, so they're actually having discussions amongst themselves about what's going on in the story. They're real excited that these people are interested enough to come to their school and read with them."

Next Tuesday, the USM group will head back to Grace Christian, where they will be joined by Linda Williams Jackson - who happens to be Chloe's mother.

"This is kind of my first leadership position doing something for the community, and I'm glad that we can do it together, and that she can experience what we've put together and enjoy being with the kids," Chloe said.

Owens said she also is excited to have Linda Williams Jackson visit the school.

"She's a very humble, sweet lady, and she did win the MLA award," Owens said. "It's really not very often that you have an author come to your school like this - they usually charge a whole lot, and she's just doing this out of the kindness of her heart."

The group plans to do more reading events in the future, with stops planned for Rowan Elementary School, among possible others.

"Next semester, we're probably going to read Midnight Without a Moon again," Chloe said. "Next year we might choose a different book, or keep doing that one - I'm not really sure yet."