07:34 AM

UHD Hosts Inaugural "Read Out!"

Approximately 120 high school students from Houston Independent School District (HISD), as well as other local school districts and private schools, convened at UHD this week in a celebration of diversity, manhood, culture and community, as championed in Ernest J. Gaines' classic book, A Lesson Before Dying.

Consistent with the mission of UHD's Center for Critical Race Studies, the students delved into the book's central themes, including survival with dignity, religious and cultural tensions, and "colorism."

"Today's 'Read Out!' underscores the power of literacy and its impact, both on individuals and the communities in which they live," said DoVeanna Fulton, dean of UHD's College of Humanities and Social Sciences and director of the Center for Critical Race Studies. "Literacy not only informs students' education, but also their perception of self, how they see the world, how they think about and perceive others, and - ultimately - how they build their own personal philosophies of life. Our goal as educators is to equip graduates with the ability to understand ideas and knowledge, which, when coupled with students' own experience, enables them to create new sets of knowledge they can use to change the world."

Fulton named this inaugural event the "Read Out!" to ignite students' passion for reading and encourage them to share the many benefits of reading with the broader Houston community.

Throughout the day-long event, students split into groups of 10 to interface directly with deans and professors in an interactive analysis of the book and its relevance for men, minorities and college students today.

"I am so happy to see this collaborative of Houston institutions kick off this initiative together," said Paula Harris, HISD board member and community affairs director at Schlumberger. "It was so impressive to see this group of Houston-area teens interact around reading and enjoying the book, A Lesson Before Dying. This program is the beginning of our literacy partnerships."

While on campus, the students received academic advising on their educational options, learned from current UHD students, and experienced first-hand the life of a college student.

Fulton, Vida Robertson, UHD associate professor of African-American literature, and Crystal Guillory, assistant dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, addressed the students and encouraged them to pursue reading as a lifelong hobby and bridge to new worlds, cultures and viewpoints.

Matthew Teutsch, Ph.D., interim director of the Ernest J. Gaines Center at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, also spoke to the students about the powerful impact of the author's work and his lasting legacy regarding racial injustice and widespread beliefs pertaining to heritage, responsibility and personal dignity.

In total, students from 35 local high schools participated in the 2014 "Read Out!," sponsored by a grant from Texas State Rep. Sylvester Turner, Schlumberger, Jack and Jill of America and The Westco Experience Foundation, in addition to UHD's Center for Critical Race Studies and Center for Public Service and Family Strengths.

A participating high school student said, "Today I learned that it's important not to judge a book by its cover. Through the 'Read Out!,' I saw that the character of a person is important, regardless of his race or background. You just have to take the time to get to know him."

Leaders of today's "Read Out!" underscored the young students' value and emphasized that a core belief in themselves is a catalyst for personal success and societal change. This goal fulfills Ernest J. Gaines' words in A Lesson Before Dying, "Only when the mind is free has the body a chance to be free. Yes, they must believe, they must believe."

UHD Dean DoVeanna Fulton and Matthew Teutsch, Ph.D., interim director of the Ernest J. Gaines Center at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, led UHD's inaugural "Read Out!" to encourage 120 high school students to read for pleasure.