OCC celebrates Black History Month with read-in

By: Sherri Kolade | Farmington Press | Published February 9, 2016

 Ann Walaskay, an Oakland Community College library staff member, reads at the Orchard Ridge campus during a read-in event for Black History Month Feb. 3.

Ann Walaskay, an Oakland Community College library staff member, reads at the Orchard Ridge campus during a read-in event for Black History Month Feb. 3.

Photo by Deb Jacques


FARMINGTON HILLS — A large framed image of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preaching and marching hung above the Oakland Community College library entryway.

During the African-American Read-In Feb. 3 at the Orchard Ridge Campus, men and women of all creeds and colors read aloud from books written by black authors.

During the 27th annual national event — the sixth annual event at Orchard Ridge — about 200 or so attendees listened to children’s literature, poetry, nonfiction and fictional works ranging from topics of self-worth to young people dying at the hands of police officers.

Throughout the month of February, all five campuses plan to celebrate Black History Month with read-ins.

The national African-American Read-In is sponsored by the Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English.

The campus event was also in partnership with OCC’s libraries and the OCC College Committee for Diversity and Inclusion.

Nadja Springer-Ali, faculty librarian at the Orchard Ridge Campus, facilitated the event and read aloud from a number of books, including “Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina,” by  Misty Copeland. 

Springer-Ali said the event is really important at OCC.

“I am really excited that such an opportunity exists to put a spotlight on the vast array of literature that is available that has been authored by African-Americans,” Springer-Ali said. “(It is a) wonderful way to celebrate Black History Month.”

Springer-Ali said she loved the variety of works that the readers, community members, OCC students and staff read.

“This year’s turnout was phenomenal,” she added. “This is an event that is such a nice way to build community on our campuses … and nice to bring folks into the library … to help people discover new authors that they never knew may have existed.”

Oakland Early College student Kayla Tyus read aloud from Wallace Thurman’s “The Blacker the Berry” during the event, and said she saw the book and decided to read it because it spoke to her. She added that her grandmother would always say “the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice,” and that loving yourself, regardless of your color, is important.

Orchard Ridge librarian Ann Walaskay read aloud from “Between the World and Me,” by  Ta-Nehisi Coates, whom she described as a new rendition of Malcolm X.

“(The book) piqued my interest,” she said, adding that the author’s writing on how society is not being truthful regarding police violence was attention-getting.

Springer-Ali said a wide variety of students attended the event, and some came from classes like U.S. history professor Anthony Baracco’s class. Baracco, she said, feels black history is an important part of American history.

Baracco said he wants his class to gain more awareness and some understanding of different cultures and the African-American experience.

“And also learn a little bit about writing and open up to cultures,” he said. “We’ll talk about this in (upcoming classes), what they learned.”
Baracco’s student Allen Prue, 46, read an excerpt from King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

“I read that because it was the first thing that I turned to,” he said. “I was kind of surprised that I turned to that right away.”

He added that as a black person, he feels that the new generation of black people are not “on fire” like those before them were.

“I think that they need to learn their history, and I think that instead of being upset with whites … they should appreciate the struggle and honor it,” Prue said. “There is too much crime, too much insensitivity.”

For more information, go to www.oaklandcc.edu.