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Cleveland Reads has real potential to change lives (video)





Tray’Onna, an eighth grader at East Clark Elementary, spoke in a shy voice best described as a whisper. The smile on her face attempted to conceal her nervousness. The absolute excitement she felt, though, was evident as she and her father, Larsay Hardnick, strolled through Cleveland Public Auditorium on Saturday, December 17th. The two had come downtown on a cold December afternoon with several hundred other people to help launch Cleveland’s most ambitious literacy campaign in recent memory.

“This is great,” Tray’Onna said, looking up at her father. Hardnick smiled at his daughter and nodded his head in agreement.

“When I heard about this event, I knew there was no way we were going to miss it. My daughter absolutely loves to read, which is something I also really enjoyed as a child,” said Hardnick, who graduated from John Adams High School in 2015. He said he received his first Cleveland Public Library card when he was 12 years old and has remained a fan of the institution ever since.  

Cleveland’s Mayor Justin Bibb kicked off the inaugural Cleveland Reads event with brief remarks encouraging the crowd to spread the word about the ambitious literacy effort, which is the brainchild of a conversation he had earlier this year with Felton Thomas, Jr. Executive Director & CEO of Cleveland Public Library. The goal is to get Cleveland residents to collectively read one million books and/or log one million minutes of reading in 2023.

“Reading is a passion of mine and it’s helped guide me through various stages of life,” Bibb said before the public launch of the campaign.

“Books have influenced me emotionally, spiritually, and professionally and I hope Cleveland Reads brings that same love to all Clevelanders,” he added.

Few public efforts could potentially bear more long-term fruit. Limited reading and comprehension skills doom generations of young people to failed academic experiences and limited work and professional opportunities.

A long-term study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation published in 2012 found a strong correlation between illiteracy and academic failure. Students who weren’t proficient in reading by the third grade were four times more likely to drop out of high school.

A 2009 study by Case Western Reserve University found that 69% of Cleveland adults read at or below the seventh-grade level. Even more distressing is a 2018 Seeds of Literacy study that found that 66% of Cleveland adults are functionally illiterate.

Functional illiteracy is defined as having math, reading, or language skills below a fourth-grade level. Adults who fall into this academic chasm often struggle with basic functions such as reading a medicine bottle, a job application, or a bus schedule.

That is why the Cleveland Reads effort is a social undertaking that multiple Cleveland stakeholders have enthusiastically embraced. Along with the Mayor’s office and the Cleveland Public Library, the effort is also supported by the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, The Cleveland Teacher’s Union, and nearly 30 community organizations committed to encouraging and boosting literacy levels throughout Cleveland. The National Federation of Teachers also contributed mightily to the effort by donating 40,000 books that were given away at the event.

James W. Wade III, who works in public relations, attended the launch event of Cleveland Reads as a representative of 100 Black Men of Greater Cleveland, which is part of a national mentoring organization. The group was giving away a book called The Fathers Walk, which was written by Margaret Bernstein, an award-winning journalist and celebrated community mentor.

“We wanted to be part of this effort to promote literacy and the involvement of men in their children’s lives as parents and educators. Part of the journey men must take with their children involves developing and stoking a love for reading,” Wade said.

Bernstein agreed. She smiled broadly as she watched Tray’Onna’s interaction with her father and asked the young Cleveland scholar whether she will use the year-long campaign as a way to try to promote reading among her peers.

Tray’Onna said: “Yes, definitely,” in a voice that conveyed her excitement. She listened as the fabulous John Marshall High School marching band played from the stage of the auditorium.

“That’s why we’re here,” Bernstein said. You’re looking at one of Cleveland’s young reading ambassadors,” she added for good measure.

To support the Cleveland Reads challenge, call the library’s outreach office at (216) 902-4925 or visit or for more information.