A Search for Family Traditions – Madisonville Community Gathers for “Read Across Madisonville”


“What’s your family story?”

The third-annual Read Across Madisonville event explored this question among students at John P. Parker School and the Madisonville community at large on Thursday, April 26. While literacy and the importance of families reading together is celebrated all year long through literacy nights organized by John P. Parker School, Madisonville Education and Assistance Center (MEAC) and Rising Stars of America, April’s literacy night was extra special.

First was a visit by award-winning author, journalist and distinguished speaker Cheryl Wills at an all-school assembly for John P. Parker students. Ms. Wills read her book, “The Emancipation of Grandpa Sandy Wills,” with the assistance of teachers who walked around the gym holding copies of the book so all students could see the illustrations.

John P. Parker principal Dr. Kimberly Mack with Cheryl Wills.

“Ms. Wills’ story is an amazing one that we thought would resonate with many students,” said Dr. Kimberly Mack, principal at John P. Parker. “Her story can inspire our students to explore and create their own family trees.”

After the reading, Ms. Wills took questions from the students. One student asked what inspired her to look up her grandpa. Ms. Wills shared that after her father’s death when she was 13 years old, she struggled for many years to figure out who she was.

“There was a lot of misery around me,” she said to the students. “But I was persistent in thinking that even though we had some sad stories, I knew we had some heroic stories, too.”

While working as a broadcast journalist in New York City, Ms. Wills started to conduct research online about her family. She discovered that her great-great-great-grandfather, Sandy Wills, served in the Union Army during the Civil War. She also uncovered documents that traced the lives of her family members from Sandy to her parents.

“There’s tremendous power that comes from knowing who you are,” Wills told the students. “Ask your parents, your grandparents, uncles or aunts, ‘Tell me our family story.’”

Wills’ book, “The Emancipation of Grandpa Sandy Wills.”

Later that the evening, students, their families and the Madisonville community were invited to “Read Across Madisonville Family Traditions: Cultivating a Culture of Literacy,” to hear more from Ms. Wills and fellow community members on the importance of literacy and fostering family traditions around reading.

“There’s something in a book that can incite excitement in all of us,” said Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge Fanon Rucker, who served as master of ceremonies for the evening. “Our job is to find in our kids something that excites them and give them a book to encourage them to read.”

The event featured a proclamation from the City of Cincinnati, read by Judge Rucker, a performance from Suzuki Collaborative of Cincinnati, and the keynote presentation from Ms. Wills in which she shared the full story of uncovering her family’s story.

Madisonville as a community is very active in promoting literacy and providing resources for families to read together at home. As a part of Read Across Madisonville, literacy corners were created at local Madisonville shops by United Way Success by Six, whose mission is to improve kindergarten readiness.

WCPO even caught up with some John P. Parker students who just can’t keep their nose out of a book. You can watch the news segment here.

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Keep up with happenings at John P. Parker at http://www.parker.cps-k12.org.


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