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Literature for Life’s Black, White and Read All Over Gala a success

2 November 2011 No Comments

By Fabien Alexis

$50,000 was the goal.

Whether or not the goal was achieved is yet to be known, but Literature for Life’s Third Annual Black, White and Read All Over Fundraising Gala was undeniably a success.

On October 26th, a fundraiser was held on the 40th floor of the posh RBC Tower downtown Toronto.

Guests honoured the theme dressing in black and white attire.

Over 85 people attended the event, leaving only standing room around the podium where the various guests would speak. The Carlo Berardinucci band played jazz music on one end of the room while a 30” screen streamed images of Women with Words, a documentary on the participants in the program by director Ania Piszczkiewicz.

The gala was hosted by Jemeni, an award-winning poet and program facilitator for Literature for Life. She spoke briefly on how she was roped into filling in for Wendy “Motion” Braithwaite and then fell in love with the program and never looked back.

Tamara Shelly, the organization’s PR noted, “It was really great having Jemeni as a host, and it’s definitely a treat having her as a program facilitator. She just brings such great perspective and just insight into what we’re trying to do: empowering young mothers in their role as their child’s first teacher.”

For Jacqueline Graham, Literature for Life was all about the reading circle operating independently within her own school eight years ago.

Literature for Life Ambassador Jaqueline Graham/AMBER KING

She laughed, “It’s been a very interesting, experience, just  because it opened up many doors for me where I was able to meet people but also reach people through my words, because I started to write for them [Literature for Life]… It was a very rewarding experience for me to get my voice out there and encourage other young women.”

Shelly explained more about the program: “The books that we read aren’t typical books these women receive in school. And a lot of the time the literature doesn’t reflect them or anybody that they know. It’s not intriguing, it doesn’t grab them it doesn’t resonate and I think the books that we choose do… A lot of the books we have often feature strong female protagonist characters. I think that we really focus on resilience, because we want to inspire young women beyond their circumstances to realize they have a world of opportunity ahead of them. The writing is more introspective… Their opinions are shared around the table. It allows them to put aside any boundaries or barriers that they may have in expressing themselves.”

Graham, a 24-year-old mother, acts as a speaker for the program and delivered a speech on how the organization facilitated her drive for education and will to succeed. Today she is a writer, poet, motivational speaker – and the list will only grow over time.

“Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘the mind is a terrible thing to waste’,” recalls Graham. “Always stimulate your mind with positivity. And you can always find that within literacy and it will help improve your life in many different ways.”

Attorney Julian Falconer was the evening’s keynote speaker and brought attention to the need for monetary support across the board. “Jo [Altilia] has gone to the house. She goes to the house and she meets with others. She’s teaching mothers how to read to their children. She’s created a program that goes into homes.”

Spoken word poet, writer and Literature for Life Ambassador Roots Kizzy was introduced to the program only a year ago through her own home.

She said, “I love the movement, I love the cause they’re working for right now. Building healthy women  and children is important right now, especially for young Black women. It helped me to be able to interact, to be able to move into networking with women across the city. The writing circle is what helped build up my motivation because I was already writing and I was already performing and needed an outlet to explore different venues different people.”

Literature for Life Ambassador Roots Kizzy/AMBER KING

Kizzy delivered two powerful pieces to a resounding applause throughout the room. Her voice alone dictated control and authority. Writing since the age of ten, Kizzy grew through the program and is now looking forward to her first work of poetry being published in December.

Kizzy was mentoring young women within her own community before becoming an ambassador for Literature for Life.

“The program inspired me to be a better woman,” she said thoughtfully, “to be a better researcher and to just pursue my dreams as a woman, as a mother, to growing my child the way that’s best.”

Valerie Pringle, the honorary chair for the evening also touched on the importance of the program

“The genius is seeing this and acting and reaching out,” said Pringle, “and obviously a difference is being made. I think it’s a lovely concept to think of a mother as a child’s first teacher. And supporting that mother, and giving her the skills, the tools and really the self-esteem as well, to move forward in her own life, to make changes in her own life.”

The evening ended with a speech from the founder, Jo Altilia, who encouraged attendees to not only spread the word, but to support the unique and important organization.

A silent auction capped off the evening with items ranging from earrings to paintings, to pillows and postcards.

For more information about this program visit www.LiteratureForLife.org.

Twitter: @Literature4Life
Facebook: Literature for Life (Canada)

L to R: Rosanna Tanti, board member; Sue Bell, Board member; Jo Altilia, Founder/Executive Director of Literature for Life; Tamara Shelly, Event Chair/DENNIS HANAGAN










Amber King, left, and Dahlia Eagle-Ellis, right, Literature for Life program participants/DENNIS HANAGAN













L to R: Rocio, Jemeni Gairy, Roots Kizzy and Jacqueline Graham/AMBER KING










Literature for Life selects books that reinforce their goals and reflect the women they guide.




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