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Real Men Read Receives National Attention


Inger Upchurch, Crenshaw and Cossitt Branch Manager, said she could not believe it when she received the telephone call from the National Book Foundation stating she was one of the recipients: “I’ve never won a national award….I thought it was one of my family members joking around.” As the conversation and detailed facts continued, she said she finally realized Real Men Read was indeed one of the winners. Only five programs were chosen. Upchurch stated,“I was very excited to be one of the five recipients out of the 304 entries.”
“Children don’t see enough African American Men role models in today’s society,” said Upchurch. She said she saw the need for more African American male mentors in the community and thought about a way she could help make a difference. Shortly after that the Real Men Read mentoring program began with four volunteers and has since grown over the years to twenty-five. “Each mentor is dedicated and has a real passion to mentor and educate the children in the community.”
Upchurch envisioned, created, and has watched the Real Men Read program spread its wings and take off to where it is now, mentoring over 300 daycare groups in one month. She mentioned during the interview that the Real Men Read program is filled with mentors for the month of June, and she is still receiving phone calls and emails from mentors wanting to sign up for the month.
She says one of the joys she gets from the program is seeing the children grow up out of the Real Men Read mentoring program with a love for reading. “When the kids get a little older and come back to the library, I see them taking books from the shelves and asking someone to read to them, or they are reading themselves.”
Upchurch is currently working on a few new projects she hopes will turn into productive programs in the future. One of the new programs is a summer parenting education workshop. She says she believes it is important to help parents understand the concept of engaging children with learning disabilities or who seem to be disinterested in learning. “Reading is a process; we have to teach parents to have patience with their children,” she notes of the passion for helping parents connect with their children to her family. “I had parents that engaged me with learning activities, reading assignments, anything that would help keep my mind busy. In school I had teachers that taught me at an early age that reading can be fun.”

Her advice to individuals or organizations that are trying to launch mentoring programs is, “Don’t let anybody stop you from fulfilling a God given vision….Don’t be afraid to fight for what you really want.” She mentioned sometimes you have to be like Don Quixote -“Don’t be afraid to chase your windmill even if people think you are crazy…always think outside the box.”

In the end she said, “When your work becomes your passion, that is the best satisfaction you need.”