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Literacy Advocate LeVar Burton and Marley Dias, Founder of #1000BlackGirlBooks, Join NEA to Celebrate Read Across America’s 20th Anniversary

Washington, D.C. - March 02, 2017 - The National Education Association (NEA) kicked off the 20th anniversary of “NEA’s Read Across America Day” with a reading event in Washington, DC today. Joining NEA were several of the nation’s leading literacy organizations including Reading is Fundamental (RIF) and First Book along with actor, author and literacy advocate LeVar Burton and 12-year-old Marley Dias, an advocate for diversity in literature who founded #1000BlackGirlBooks. The event celebrated Dr. Seuss’ 113th birthday, and kicked off the Association’s national Read Across America campaign, during which an estimated 45 million educators, parents and students will participate in events nationwide.

NEA’s Read Across America Day originated in 1997 when an NEA reading task force suggested a day of reading to emphasize the fun and adventure of reading. NEA’s first call for every child and every community to enjoy the benefits of reading took place on March 2, 1998, the birthday of Theodor Geisel, more commonly known as Dr. Seuss, who died in 1991. NEA’s Read Across America is co-sponsored by Dr. Seuss Enterprises (“Cat in the Hat” is the Read Across America Day mascot) and Random House Children’s Books.

“NEA members rallied and organized reading events across the country, and the effort became the nation’s largest celebration of reading,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “Since then, NEA’s Read Across America has continued to generate enthusiasm for reading nationwide, always emphasizing the importance of motivating children to read.”

Marley Dias, a book lover who is on a mission to collect books about women of color through #1000BlackGirlBooks, and LeVar Burton, who hosts the long-running PBS children's series “Reading Rainbow,” portrayed Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge in “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and starred as the young Kunta Kinte in the 1977 award-winning miniseries “Roots,” joined NEA President Eskelsen García, children’s book authors and 450 elementary school students for a lively celebration of reading. Wearing the classic Dr. Seuss red and white striped stovepipe hats, children were treated to a reading of “Green Eggs and Ham,” a question and answer session with Dias, “Seuss-tastic” activity stations and a surprise visit from the Cat-in-the-Hat. The campaign by Dias, who just signed a book deal with Scholastic, for more books about girls like her has won many admirers, including Michelle Obama and Ebony magazine.

Burton is now reaching a new generation of readers with the “Reading Rainbow” app and its digital library Skybrary, available online, on iPad, iPhone, Kindle Fire and Google Play. The Skybrary Family app currently features over 1,000 books. Children can read them alone, or listen to readings by celebrity narrators, and parents can track their child’s progress.

Following the reading event, NEA hosted a roundtable discussion, “Literacy in America.” Eskelsen García, Burton and Dias were joined by Reading is Fundamental (RIF) President Alicia Levi, First Book Chandler Arnold and Alabama media specialist Ashley Strickland.

“For 50 years RIF has been inspiring children to read, learn and grow, and we are proud to join in NEA’s Read Across America 20th anniversary celebration to focus attention on the need to ignite and sustain in every child a passion for reading,” said Levi. “With nearly two-thirds of our fourth graders reading below grade level, it’s critical that we work together to address the literacy crisis and ensure that every child has the opportunity to achieve his or her full potential. NEA's Read Across America brings much-needed awareness of this critical issue and highlights the joy and fun reading brings into children’s lives.”

In addition to Dr. Seuss Enterprises, Random House, RIF and First Book there are 30 other national promotional partners, including the American Library Association, PTA, Reading Rockets, Learning First Alliance, United Through Reading and Heart of America Foundation.

NEA’s Read Across America has attracted some of the biggest names in politics, entertainment and sports. In addition to former First Lady Michelle Obama, past celebrity participants have included Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, Jessica Alba, Green Bay Packers wide receiver Donald Driver, Carrie Underwood, Gwyneth Paltrow, Alex Rodriguez, Serena Williams, Selena Gomez, Shaquille O’Neal, and many others.

“NEA’s Read Across America is an incredible vehicle for focusing attention on the literacy needs and successes of our children, but we know it takes much more than a one-day celebration,” said Eskelsen Garcia. “It’s the relationships that kids, teachers, librarians, parents, volunteers and other caring community members form with books on that day—relationships that can have a long-term impact on our nation of diverse readers. One day of reading together can ignite a passion for reading. It can provide the spark for reading together every day.”

For more information on EA’s Read Across America, visit: www.nea.org/readacross.

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