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Book project aims to empower students

THOMAS GRANING/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Iyana Holmes is participating in the Natchez-Adams School District’s summer reading of “I Beat the Odds” by Michael Oher as part of the “One Book, One Community” project. The project kicked off earlier this year with a balloon lift-off.
THOMAS GRANING/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Iyana Holmes is participating in the Natchez-Adams School District’s summer reading of “I Beat the Odds” by Michael Oher as part of the “One Book, One Community” project. The project kicked off earlier this year with a balloon lift-off.

By Mary Kathryn Carpenter

Iyana Holmes is adding another book to the “too-long-to-count” list of books she has read in her lifetime.

Holmes, who will begin her seventh-grade year at Robert Lewis Magnet School in the fall, is reading “I Beat the Odds” by Michael Oher as part of a community wide summer reading program called “One Book, One Community.”

“I have seen (‘The Blind Side’) before, but I really like the book so far,” Holmes said, referencing the 2009 major motion picture based on Oher’s life. “I like it better because it really tells his side of the story.”

The program launched by the public schools in May is meant to unite children in area schools through a love of reading.

The book was chosen by Natchez-Adams School District Deputy Superintendent Tanisha Smith as the book local sixth through 12th graders would be required to read as part of their summer reading.

“We went through a couple of books and kept coming back to this one,” Smith said. “We like the message, and it is something everyone can enjoy.”

The book by Oher, a successful pro football player, is about how, despite his rough childhood, he surpassed expectations and excelled as an athlete.

Morgantown Middle School guidance counselor Monica King said the book was chosen to teach local teens to give it their all. King is one of many district officials helping to organize community wide reading events for the program.

“The book teaches determination and having your own drive no matter what happens,” King said. “No matter your situation, you can achieve your goals. Even though sometimes you have a tendency to think, ‘I’ll never make it because of my situation,’ this book teaches you that is not necessarily so.”

Joshua Credit, who will soon enter the sixth grade at Robert Lewis Magnet School, picked up the lesson the book set out to teach.

“It taught me life is hard,” Credit said. “But, if you work hard, it gets easier.”

Smith decided to begin this summer reading program, involving all area schools, because she has seen it be successful before in other districts in which she has worked.

“I’ve been in other communities, and I’ve see it happen,” Smith said. “I felt like Natchez is the perfect place. It’s the perfect size and has the right setup for this to be successful.”

The project has included events to get children involved in the reading program and has several things in store for the rest of the summer.

A book club discussing the book will be at 3:30 p.m. every Tuesday through Aug. 5 in the Natchez Mall outside of Bookland.

“We play icebreakers and then discuss the book,” King said. “At our first meeting, we discussed (Oher’s) goals for writing the book. We are discussing the book by chapter.”

Holmes has attended two meetings of the book club so far and enjoys going.

“The meetings give me more understanding of the book,” Holmes said. “Before we go into a chapter, we predict what’s going to happen, or if others have read the chapter already, they give us a brief summary of what to expect.”

Several other potential activities are currently in the works.

Art and essay contests and a viewing of “The Blind Side” on the bluff are a few examples of what is in store for area youth who take the time to read the book, Smith said.

But the ultimate reward is the sense of self-empowerment and encouragement the youth will receive from reading the book.

“I just hope they catch the sense of determination the book drives home,” King said. “No matter your situation, you can overcome the obstacles. We all face something, and it’s just a matter of learning what’s within us.”