Celebrating literacy and Hispanic Heritage Month in a park designed for all generations
On September 15, the first day of Hispanic Heritage Month (runs to October 15), there will be a gathering in a small urban park in Atlanta, led by a young community advocate, Sofia Bork, who is committed to improving the lives of Latinos.
The event is a bilingual literacy session taking place in partnership with the venue, the Sara J. Gonzalez Memorial Park, which is the first park in Georgia to honor a Latino — a leader in the community who passed in 2008. Dedicated to themes of diversity, inclusion and equity, the park is a frequent location for intergenerational events.
“We chose to host the reading in an area parents are familiar with and feel safe in,” says Bork, noting that the upcoming session will take place in tandem with a bi-weekly food distribution event put on by the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. “Doing it tied to this distribution means parents don’t have to attend multiple events. The park becomes a one-stop shop, which is ideal.”
Bork anticipates 100 to 200 families will come through, with a number of those stopping by for the bilingual book reading that will target babies and youth 0-5 years old. “We are intentional with our curation of bilingual materials with the idea that their lived experience matters, and that to be bilingual is a gift,” she says.
The literacy events have also welcomed a partnership with the city’s Fulton County Library System, which has distributed library cards as well as promoted the library system as an inclusive institution welcoming of diverse communities.
“People who can speak their primary language when receiving library services feel seen and heard and are receptive,” says Christina Rand, Fulton County Library System’s outreach manager. “Recognizing that we must be prepared to engage with the Latino community in their primary language is the bridge that leads to success.”
When it comes to academic proficiency in the Latino community, early-reading age efforts like these are critical, especially as high school dropout rates remain high.
“If one family changes their mindset of prioritizing literacy and life experiences within the community, another family follows,” says Atlanta-based educator and school principal José M. Osorio. “It begins the domino effect of empowering a community to make each generation better than the previous one.”
For Bork, the intergenerational aspect of the gathering is key. “My mom is an immigrant from Bogotá, Colombia, and immigrated here when she was younger. She told me of how nervous she felt reading at school and never wanted my sister and me to feel that way,” Bork recalls.
“Because of my mother’s commitment to teaching us how to read, I fell in love with reading so much that I majored in English and now work in a communications role. I love hosting these literacy sessions because they make me think of my mom and how something like this would have helped her had programming like this been available to her.”
Isabel González Whitaker is a senior fellow at Encore.org and the founder of the Sara J. González Memorial Park, which honors her mother.