The week of May 13, 2019, was a week full of Joy on Florida’s Suncoast. For the past several months, more than 900 people have been reading, meeting in book circles, and discussing Joy Thomas Moore’s book, The Power of Presence. To celebrate the wide-spread participation in the book circle initiative, the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading hosted a variety of intimate meet the author events in Charlotte, Manatee, and Sarasota counties.
We began Joy’s visit with a special taping of WWSB ABC7’s Black Almanac hosted by Renée James Gilmore. She was joined by Shalia Moore-Hayes, a SCGLR engagement team member and author of The Power of Presence Discussion Guide; Floyd Caldwell, a book circle participant; and Ry’Ael Holmes, a ten-year-old author.
Over the next few days, we gathered with book circle participants at the Charlotte County Convention Center, the William H. Jervey Public Library in Venice, the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, the Van Wezel Performing Arts Center, and Selby Public Library in Sarasota County, the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, and the Braden River Branch Library in Manatee County. Each event was unique, yet common themes emerged at every gathering. At each meeting, the importance of coming together with open hearts and a willingness to be vulnerable with each other was affirmed. There were tears at almost every meeting as book circle participants shared their feelings of gratitude for the support they felt in the sacred space they created with each other.
Participants commented on the importance of coming together as a group, confessing that they often felt isolated from others. Many single parents in attendance expressed their appreciation for the respect for parenting Joy Thomas Moore included in every page of her book. One woman shared that she had been a teenaged single mother who struggled to put herself and her children through school. She said, “I am now 65 years old, and I feel like reading this book and sharing my story is the first time I’ve felt celebrated for how hard I worked and what I was able to achieve.”
Each gathering included time for questions and comments and in almost every instance. The questions were prefaced with an expression of thanks to The Patterson Foundation for making the book circle experience available to so many people. Some book circles attended one of the gatherings together. We heard stories of how new friendships began. Educators from an elementary school shared how they know each other much better as a result of participating in a book circle, and they now feel like more of a team. Other work-related circles echoed the benefits they are experiencing from taking the time to get to know each other. There were multiple reports of how the new relationships born in the book circles are resulting in interconnectedness as people trust each other enough to ask for help and value each other enough to offer support.
Joy Thomas Moore subtitled The Power of Presence with the phrase, “Be a voice in your child’s ear even when you are not with them.” She asked each group to share their aspirations for the voices our young children will hear, even when we are not with them. The answers were often profound, as you will see from this sampling.
“It’s not if you are proud of your ancestors; it is most important if they will be proud of you.”
“You can’t pour from an empty vessel, so be sure to take care of yourself, while helping others.”
“Single mothers and parents with challenges are masters at making a way out of no way.”
“Our community will be stronger as we love beyond our fears.”
“It is better to lend an ear or a hand rather than to be quick to give judgment.”
Due to the overwhelmingly positive response to The Power of Presence book circles, The Patterson Foundation and the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading will continue to support book circles through the end of the summer. Each book circle consisting of at least eight people will receive support thanks to the generosity of The Patterson Foundation. Register to lead a book circle in May, June or July.