One Small Island

By Aliya Newkirk, member of the Board of Directors

So last night was the annual benefit to raise money for Behind the Book, Inc., held at the Jewish Museum located on prestigious Fifth Avenue–very NYC.  I have been an active member of the Board of Directors for this organization for the past three years.  What I love about this particular charity is that it is filled with action oriented people who don’t just pretend to believe in literacy but are actually willing to roll up their sleeves and work for the cause.

Throughout my tenure as a board member, I have watched Executive Director, Jo Umans, work tirelessly to provide innercity kids with unique and valuable experiences that foster a love of reading.  From countless published author visits, classroom intensives surrounding the semesters’ literature, partnerships with various teachers and principals, as well as generously providing the necessary supplies, I have seen firsthand the synergy of belief in a cause and ceaseless action.

Last night’s keynote speaker was Charles Blow, the op-ed columnist for the New York Times.  To summarize his speech, he basically described how books and literacy were his saving graces and the means by which he escaped the ills of poverty.  He also explained that the costs of our failing school systems were born by everyone.  That one child left behind is, in fact, your child left behind.  What was profound about his speech is that it brought me to a place where I thought intensely about living in NYC, a place where extreme wealth and abject poverty live next door to each other.  I also thought about the manner in which books and getting lost in reading shed light on some of the bleaker moments of my own childhood.  In short, I was made uncomfortable, and for that I am grateful.  As I glance over at my overindulged NYC brood and their bounty and think about the fact that they had amassed a children’s library worth thousands before they even took their first breath of life, I became sick at the thought that there are countless poor children who live in homes that do not have one age appropriate book much less a parent who reads to them on a regular basis, or any basis.

The take-away for the evening was that I and every responsible New Yorker must do more, give more, and be more to our forgotten NYC kids.  The ones we shake our heads at, the ones we ignore, the ones we pity, the ones we owe!  I will try to live my life in way that keeps in mind the fact that this island we inhabit is only nineteen miles long and we choose to “occupy” it.  So, why not encourage literacy and education instead of the delinquency that a lack of educational and economic resources fosters?  In short, it makes for much better neighbors.

If you would like to support this deserving organization visit our site at and give generously.  It’s cheaper than anti-depressants.