Promoting Children's Well Being: Peace First (Part 2)

Imani Henry is a Peace First Fellow and founder of 100 Men Reading, a nonprofit dedicated to encouraging childhood literacy and male mentorship. She was invited to speak at the American Federation of Teachers conference. Watch and read below.

Good afternoon! My name is Imani Krishna Henry and I'm the President and CEO of One Hundred Men Reading and the Imani Awards Foundation. It is an extreme pleasure to stand before you today as a Peace First Fellow advocating for early childhood literacy and education.

I believe that learning to read is the most valuable asset in a child's educational development. I suffered from a medical condition that impaired my vision and the ability for my eyes to translate words I saw to the proper words and sounds.

My parents tried to help me, but nothing seemed to work. Finally, after medical interventions, my condition improved over time; however, my literacy skills suffered.

I was paired with the best second-grade teacher and a tutor from the program Reading Assist. I was also inspired by my father. He would read to me, and for that 15 minutes every night of reading, it seemed like nothing else mattered in the world. My three big brothers also helped me to overcome my reading challenges, regain my courage and learn to read beyond all barriers.

At the ripe age of ten years-old, with a grant from Reading Is Fundamental Scholastic and Macy's, I started a literacy movement - 100 Men Reading. My nonprofit organization was formed to promote reading and literacy development among young children. Utilizing professional volunteers and male role models to serve as literacy champions.

The volunteers visit childcare centers, preschools, and elementary schools and spend an average of 45 minutes each visit reading stories to children, while also encouraging the students to read daily. Each visit ends with a free new book given to the child to help reinforce the importance of reading and help create the child's own personal library of books at home.

What started as a Wilmington, DE initiative has gone international. In 2015, the model program was trademarked, expanded across the nation to include Peurto Rico and the Caribbean. To date, over 125,000 children have been read to and given new books, and more than 4,000 volunteers have participated in 100 Men Reading.

I am a visionary and advocate for early childhood literacy and education. It is our responsibility to help make a difference ensure academic success for all children.

My passions for reading led me to self-publish my first children's book, Imani and her Magical Fairy Readers.

In closing, I would like to share a few important facts that we can change for the better. Reading is Fundamental recently reported the following: 30% of children entering kindergarten lack the basic language skills needed to learn how to read - we will improve that. 65% of the fourth-grade students are reading at below grade level we will improve this, also. If we continue to work together, we will no longer have a literacy crisis in America.

Thank you for letting me have this time with you and for helping me educate, encourage, and inspire children to be happy, healthy, and educated. And remember, readers make leaders.

And as Grace mentioned earlier, we need your help to spread the word and get your students involved in the Peace First Challenge this fall!