West Liberty celebrates annual African American read-in


Last Thursday, the West Liberty University (WLU) Campus and Community Diversity Committee hosted an African American Read-In event which celebrated a variety of black authors and their influence in the literary sphere. The read-in was part of a broader project organized by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTA) which has reached over six million participants globally. The read-in event was preceded by a performance from the WLU African drum and dance ensemble headed by Dr. Mitchell Greco.

The event was kickstarted in the Union Ballroom with an exciting performance from the African Drum and Dance ensemble. The group, containing seven members, performed one piece incorporating intricate drumming sequences and rhythmic dance moves to create an experience true to its traditional source.

The performance was followed a few minutes later by the read-in which took place in the Alumni Room. This was West Liberty’s third year participating in the read-in having been kick-started by diversity committee member Dr. Amanda Tennant. “The committee got together to determine events that could be planned to celebrate diversity and make the West Liberty Community more inclusive of different perspectives,” said Tennant. “I had seen it at my church in Pittsburgh. So, that’s where I first became familiar with it and we decided it would be worth trying at the university.”

After the event’s initial success at West Liberty in 2020 followed by an online version in 2021 due to COVID-19 restrictions, this year’s read-in incorporated 15 participants from the WLU campus- some having submitted video contributions and some reading in-person.

Tennant opened the floor with a welcome message to the audience and participants and explained that the goal of the read-in was to provide an opportunity to listen to African American voices and recognize the contribution of their unique perspective to the literary world.

The readings commenced with a passage from “Passing” by Nella Larsen read by Dr. Cecilia Konchar Farr. Farr said the book, set in 1920’s Harlem, provides a “fascinating cultural understanding about how so many women would live.” “Passing” has a recently released adaptation available on Netflix, though Farr recommended reading the book first. With fewer than 150 pages, “Passing” is an excellent option for those looking to dip into African American literature.

Anna Stephan-Robinson provided the second reading of the day with a passage from “Ordinary Light: A memoir” by Tracy K. Smith. In regards to the book, Stephan-Robinson said, “I randomly picked it up in a library and it’s just a really excellent book.”

West Liberty’s Assistant Professor of Political Science, Dr. Brian Fitzpatrick took the mantle for the third reading with a science fiction selection from Nigerian-American author Nnedi Okorafor titled “Africanfuturist 419” which elicited a number of laughs from the audience.

Associate Professor of Health and Physical Education, Kathleen Wack provided the next piece with a reading from the children’s book “Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem” by Amanda Gorman (author) and Loren Long (illustrator). “One of the skills we teach in health education is advocacy and this is one of the books we use to do that,” said Wack.

The audience were then presented with a virtual musical contribution from West Liberty’s Linda Cowan and Jerry Lee. The duo performed a variety of pieces by African American composers. This was followed by a moving contribution from business and marketing major, Jared Alphonso alongside Dr. Eveldora Wheeler. The pair read Amanda Gorman’s poem “New Day’s Lyric” which incorporates themes of overcoming the past and hope for the future.

West Liberty’s President, Dr. Franklin Evans and Interim Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) leader, Dr. Monique Akassi were up next, both with virtual contributions. Evan’s read a variety of selections by James Baldwin, while Akassi opted to read from “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou.

Chris McPherson, a key member of the diversity committee at WLU and the director of the student learning and development center provided a reading of the poem “Frederick Douglass” by Robert Hayden which revolves around the fight for freedom.

Assistant Professor of Education, Hilary Bougher-Muckian joined in next with a video contribution of Matthew Cherry’s “Hair Love”, which is both a short film and picture book. It tells the story of an African American father learning how to care for his daughter’s hair.

Tennant gave the penultimate contribution with a selection from “The Water Dancer ” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Released in 2019, “The Water Dancer” is Coates’ debut novel. It is a historical fiction piece set in the pre-Civil War south.

The event was closed out with a video contribution from Dr. Gerard NeCastro’s reading of the poem “Theme for English B” by Langston Hughes. Hughes’ work is regarded as highly influential in the Harlem Renaissance era, and is known for his depiction of what it was like to be black and American at that time.

The diversity committee is now gearing up for Women’s History Month which occurs in March. To find out more about the diversity committee’s future plans or to get involved, contact McPherson by email at [email protected] For more information on the WLU African drum and dance ensemble, reach out to Greco at [email protected]