It may have rained on the parade during Total Equity Now’s (TEN’s) 11th Annual Literacy Across Harlem March on Saturday, Oct. 7, but more than 60 intergenerational, literacy-loving community members carried Ziploc-bag-covered books through the streets of Harlem to promote reading and writing, show their enthusiasm for Black and brown literature, and share TEN’s vision of universal literacy.
The event began with separate pre-march rallies hosted by El Museo del Barrio on the East Side and Sister’s Uptown Bookstore & Cultural Center on the West Side. El Museo del Barrio educator Edwin Gonzalez highlighted the museum’s origins and its longstanding commitment to educational programming as an accessible vehicle for visual and literary arts. Sister’s Uptown president and founder Janifer Wilson, who opened her bookstore 23 years ago, spoke about her vision for her store and the significance of the march.
“We are a people, Black and Brown people in particular, of stories. Some of those stories we share in the written word and some of them we have shared through our oral traditions, “ said TEN Founder and Executive Director Joe Rogers, who kicked off the event with a livestream from Marcus Garvey Park’s amphitheater. “Each one of these raindrops, to me, represents a powerful story of our history, of our culture, of our future, of our vision for what we know and anticipate our community will become and what we are building here today through the Literacy Across Harlem March.”
TEN dedicates each year’s march to the memory of Harlem literary superstars Pura Belpré, an Afro-Puerto Rican author and storyteller who served as the New York Public Library’s first Latina librarian, and New York Times bestselling author Walter Dean Myers, raised in Harlem and known for penning more than 100 children’s and young-adult books, many set in Harlem.
TEN leaders guided two groups of marchers—one on the East Side and one on the West Side—to inspiring literary landmarks, including writer and social activist Langston Hughes’s house on 127th Street; P.S. 24, the elementary school attended by writer James Baldwin, which today houses Harlem Renaissance High School; the Aguilar Library, where Belpré worked; and the First Spanish United Methodist Church, also known as “the People’s Church,” a historical landmark featured in The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano, the East Harlem-centered coming-of-age novel by Sonia Manzano, who was known for playing the role of “Maria” on Sesame Street.
The march also included special stops at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and the Center for Puerto Rican Studies.
The event culminated with the marching groups entering Marcus Garvey Park from opposite sides, harmonizing their reading-related chants, and carrying gift-quality books to donate to children in Harlem-based homeless shelters. TEN volunteer and educator Oceana James poured libations as she encouraged participants to call out the names of Black and brown literary ancestors. Community members enjoyed listening to three poets: 16-year-old Chassidy Lucas of the Brotherhood Sister Sol; filmmaker, author, and media entrepreneur Kimberly Singleton, who read an excerpt from her 2023 book-length poem I Love My People; and nine-year old New York State poet laureate Kayden Hern, the youngest member of the Harlem Bomb Shelter. Participants also played literacy trivia games and broke into intergenerational reading circles to read to each other from the books they carried along the march route.