5th Annual Literacy Fest

BY MARCY PALMERI Contributor

ST. PETERSBURG — The Fifth Annual James Weldon Johnson Community Literacy Festival took place Sat., March 21 behind the library at 1059 18th Ave. This year the celebration coincided with the 100-year anniversary of the St. Petersburg Library System.

Between the hula-hoop competitions, drawings for prizes, music, a free tie-dye shirt for the children, food and fun, this event was one that will not soon be forgotten. A commemorative cake to mark the first century of library history was enjoyed by all, and even a Frankie Beverly impersonator dropped by to entertain the crowds.

The huge turnout of people included Mayor Rick Kriseman, State Representative Darryl Rouson, City Councilmen Karl Nurse and Wengay Newton, Commissioner Ken Welch and Vito Sheeley representing Congresswoman Kathy Castor.

Mayor Kriseman took time to become part of the festivities recognizing the continued efforts put forth by the Friends of Johnson Library and thanked them for their tireless dedication.

“We all know how important it is for kids to start reading at as early an age as possible. That’ll help us get to that point where we truly do become that city of opportunity where the sun is shining on everybody, and Lord knows it’s shining really brightly today.”

More than two decades ago, Kevin Johnson and Ernie Coney spearheaded Friends of Johnson Branch Library, Inc. as a means to promote reading, resources and library availability for inner-city children and families. They have played an integral role in the development of Pinellas County’s library system, and together with volunteers they have been able to see their dreams of increased library patronage.

Each year the Friends of Johnson recognizes an outstanding volunteer by presenting them with an award. Last year Friends member Shabazz Rogers was the proud recipient of the award for his mentoring, tutoring and volunteerism. This year he had the pleasure of bestowing the honor to the Coney, the president of the organization.

Coney didn’t suspect a thing; right up to the moment his name was called. “You got me. You got me really, really good,” he said. “I was really stunned! It didn’t cross my mind at all. I delegated that out to someone else to take care of and they handed it to me.”

Johnson, vice president of the organization, laughed as he said, “I pulled a fast one on him! The man has been phenomenal and we had to show our gratitude. He was instrumental in getting the library where it is now. It’s all about the young people; all about education. He’s a hard worker and a public servant. He’s the man!”

Mika Nelson, library director for the City of St. Petersburg, imparted words of wisdom about how important it is for literacy in Pinellas County to be supported.

“Kids who are not ready to read when coming into Kindergarten and do not have the pre-reading skills really developed, usually aren’t able to make it and stay on track throughout the elementary school; therefore, they won’t be prepared for middle school and high school. When they are not reading on par by fourth grade, they are more likely to drop out altogether. That is unacceptable. There is no reason why a kid isn’t ready and proficient in reading and able to progress and be successful in life.”

Coney would like the community to know that it is their library and they need to come out and make use of it. There are computers where kids come out and do their homework and college kids come to do research.

Vendors from area businesses and organizations took part in this event with displays of crafts, paintings, jewelry and more. If you missed the fun this year, next year promises to be even bigger with more entertainment, vendors, food and of course, books!

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