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First Place Essay
Brandus Mitchell

August 8,2013

It's Always Good to Read.

By Brandus Mitchell

Special to Planet Gnosis
Posted on Thursday, August 15, 2013

The importance of reading is to make you smarter.  If you read you will make good grades and have a great education.

Reading helps you spell better.  Reading is a great thing to do.  You can do it every day.  It is a good skill to have.  I like to read mystery books.  They just seem so interesting.  My favorite book is called Big Nate.  His books are in a series.  He is so funny in all of his books.  If you read every day you will always learn something new.  When you read you can read about all kinds of really interesting things.  It’s always good to read because you will learn new stuff and grow up to be really smart.

Reading helps you and me learn new words that we may not know.  Reading may also tell you what the words mean.  It helps in other classes.  It helps with instructions.  If you can’t read instructions, you won’t know how to build things you get that need building.

Reading is like a map.  It really helps when you are traveling.  You’ll know which direction to go in and what exits to take.  Reading has helped my family throughout the years, especially since we travel a lot.  Reading can help when you’re taking your kid or kids somewhere.  It’s always good to read.  I even read the newspapers sometimes so I can keep up with what’s going on in the world.  So, that is why I read.

These are some of the important benefits of reading.

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About Brandus....

The son of Annie Smith and Bill Mitchell, Brandus attends Holt Middle School in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  He is 10 years old and a young scholar in the fifth grade.  His favorite subject is math.  "It was really awesome to win," he said about the essay contest.  "It makes me feel special."

"Brandus said he wants everyone to know that he loves his mother and he loves to take care of all the females in his family," Annie said.  "He's a very responsible young man.  He loves shoes — all kinds of basketball shoes.  His hobbies are sports, especially basketball.  He enjoys sports video games and race car games.  At one time he told me that when he grows up he wants to be a psychiatrist."

Big Nate is his favorite book.  "It's about him always trying to get attention," Brandus said.  "He's grounded a lot.  It's really funny."

Brandus has two older brothers, Bronson and Bryce, and two older sisters, Adrian and LaRhonda.  His maternal grandmother is Mrs. Dorothy Smith.  His paternal grandmother is Mrs. Magnolia Mitchell.

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winners and family

A Planet Gnosis Photo | August 8, 2013

Winners and family (from left) Mrs. Alice Carpenter,
Addison Carpenter, Brandus Mitchell, and Mrs. Annie Smith
with panel moderator Mrs. Leah Williams

The 2013 "Teach me how to read...."
Literacy Essay Contest Honors Student Writers
At Panel for the Importance of Literacy.

Black Business Directory of Northwest Arkansas

Special to Planet Gnosis
Posted on Thursday, August 15, 2013

Winners of the “Teach me how to read....” Literacy Contest were honored on Thursday evening, August 8, at the Ozarks Electric Community Room in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  Brandus Mitchell, age 10, and Addison Carpenter, age 12, each won $150 for essays about the importance of reading.  Each child was also awarded a $4,000 publishing contract through TGIM Digital Publishing of Kansas City, Missouri.  The Umoja Soul Writers Group, the Northwest Arkansas Democratic Black Caucus, NWA Ebony Kids, and the Black Business Directory sponsored the contest.

The awards ceremony followed a panel discussion, “The Importance of Literacy,” focusing on minority children in northwest Arkansas.  Panelists were Leora Jackson, Michael Lafears, Jr., and Rhonda Holmes of the Umoja Soul Writers Group and Diana Gonzales Worthen of OneCommunity.  Leah Williams, a member of the Bentonville City Council, served as moderator.

Learning to Read, Reading to Learn

Panelists discussed cultural issues and educational opportunities related to literacy.  “We are a part of the Arkansas Grade-Level Reading (AR-GLR) Campaign where the goal is for every third grader to read on grade level by 2020,” Mrs. Gonzales Worthen said.  “Third grade marks a critical period in a child’s life.  From kindergarten to third grade, children are learning to read and from third and up, they are reading to learn.”

Mrs. Gonzales Worthen showed the audience bilingual books used in OneCommunity’s "Feed Your Brain-Alimenta Tu Cerebro Reading Club."  The books allow Spanish-speaking parents to read to their children in their native language, while their children are reading in both English in Spanish.

“It’s not just about dropping your kids off for story time, but rather for us to show parents how to better utilize bilingual tools to support reading efforts for their children at home,” she said.  OneCommunity is an AR-GLR Community Solutions Initiative Finalist funded by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation to assist in Literacy efforts in the Latino and Marshallese communities.

A Beacon in the Fight for Freedom

Michael Lafears, Jr., said he wants to give literacy more value and respect in light of the struggles that African Americans faced during slavery.  Slaves weren’t allowed to learn how to read, he reminded the audience.  “I don’t take literacy lightly.  Rather, it is something that I cherish as very important to me,” Mr. Lafears said.  “My ancestors had to hide a book from the slave masters, and if they were caught, they would get punished severely.  Therefore, because they fought for our freedom, I want to pass this freedom on to my children.

“We as African Americans must teach the history of our ancestors’ struggle and their journey to learn to read.  We must teach why it was so important to them then and why literacy is important today,” Mr. Lafears continued.  “The best way to pay honor and tribute to the mothers and fathers before us is to take advantage of the opportunities that are currently available, opportunities partly provided by their past sacrifices.”

Author of a volume of poetry, Words from the Speaking Soul… Life’s Unheard Cries, Mr. Lafears said he “reads and writes to express myself.  I want my daughter to have this ability and to pass it on to her children.”  He agreed with the other panelists that literacy begins at home and is enforced at school through parent involvement and teacher support.

A Spiritual Perspective to Overcoming Negativity

“I look at things from a spiritual perspective,” Rhonda Holmes, author of The Word Diet, a life-creating devotional book, told the audience.  “Because the words that we believe and speak will direct and create our behavior and outcomes, I encourage parents and all those who serve our families to only speak about the desired outcome as an expectation instead of focusing on reported statistics.”  Mrs. Holmes emphasized that if we continue to focus on and talk about negative reports, our children will accept, expect, and act out the resulting negative outcomes.

Mrs. Holmes spoke about ways to eliminate negative attitudes and negative images that contribute to problems with literacy.  She mentioned the “Smart is the New Gangsta!” t-shirt, one of many created by DNBE (, a small business whose mission is to promote positive messages, knowledge, and intellectual curiosity to youth.  DNBE focuses on fashion, entertainment, and media to combat the negative messages young people are bombarded with every day.

Leora Jackson, a poet and essayist who writes under the penname F. L. Jones, said parents have to plant the seed of literacy early in a child’s development.  “Develop a home reading and vocabulary routine and stick with it,” she said.  “Don’t expect the teachers and community to do it all.  The real teaching starts with parents as the first role model.”

Author of Candy Apple Poetry and Cotton Candy: Sweet Poems for the Soul, Mrs. Jackson said she reads to her four-year-old son every night.  “If there is a time that he does not get a bedtime story, it is because he was punished for a behavior,” she said.  “Of course, he is not very happy when his book time is suspended.  He has grown to expect his bedtime story as part of his daily medication.  Even the babysitters are expected to read to him or he will tattletale — and, of course, I will not be happy with the babysitters!”

D’Andre Jones, president of the NWA Democratic Black Caucus, said more focus needs to be on the early pre-K settings and on educating parents.  "I believe that parents don’t realize the importance of what reading can do if they don’t know the statistics of it," Mr. Jones said.  "If there is a way to emphasize those numerical gaps that shows kids with high reading levels vs. low reading levels, maybe parents would get it and try to read more to their children.”

Brandus and Addison Read to the Audience

After the panel discussion, essay winners Brandus and Addison each had a turn to read their essay to the audience and talk about why reading is important to them.  Both children will be “signing a contract” with Eric Jones, president of TGIM Publishing, sometime later this month.  Members of TGIM’s staff from Kansas City will be traveling to Arkansas to meet these young writers and their parents to sign them as TGIM authors.  The first project for publication of their writing is The Bully Diaries, part of the best-selling Pieces of Me series.

Every student writer in the essay contest walked away a winner.  For their participation, young writers won a free e-book from TGIM, Stories of Hope, a new release written by youth participating in "Writing for the Soul Workshops" around the world.  This opportunity was made possible through collaboration between TGIM, Umoja Soul Writers Group, and other community partners in Northwest Arkansas.

This wonderful event ended with Rhonda Holmes leading the audience in a “Literacy Confession,” declaring that, “in Jesus’ Name, we and our children read, comprehend, understand and excel.  We see opportunities to excel all the time... and take them!  We take, live, and do excellence!”

“Thanks to all for participating, especially our children and volunteers,” contest and panel coordinator Leora Jackson said.  “Let us continue to make a difference in the life of a child.”

panelists and winners

A Planet Gnosis Photo | August 8, 2013

Panelists and essay contest winners (from left)
Mrs. Diana Gonzales Worthen, Mrs. Rhonda Holmes,
Addison Carpenter, Mrs. Leora Jackson,
Brandus Mitchell, and Mr. Michael Lafears, Jr.

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The Other Winner:  Addison Carpenter
The other winner in the literacy essay contest is Addison Carpenter, a 12-year-old scholar from Holt Middle School in Fayetteville.  Addison's essay is also featured here on the Multicultural Issues web.  Kindly click and go!


E D I T O R ' S   N O T E :
The following article was published in advance of the conference and is archived here for the record.

The Importance of Literacy

Exploring Issues and Opportunities
Related to the Growth and Development
of Minorities in Northwest Arkansas

Thursday, August 8, beginning at 6:30 p.m.
Ozarks Electric Community Room in Fayetteville, Arkansas
You are invited!

Special to Planet Gnosis
Monday, August 5, 2013

The Umoja Soul Writers Group will host a panel discussion on The Importance of Literacy in the Human Growth and Development for Minorities on Thursday August 8, in Fayetteville.  Leah Williams, a member of the Bentonville City Council, will moderate the event at the Ozarks Electric Community Room beginning at 6:30 p.m.

The panel discussion is part of the Teach Me How To Read Literacy Campaign sponsored by Umoja, the Northwest Arkansas Democratic Black Caucus, Ebony Kids of Northwest Arkansas, and the Black Business Directory.  The Teach Me How to Read book drive and a literacy essay contest for youngsters and teenagers are also part of the campaign. (To learn more about the book drive and essay contest, kindly follow links at the bottom of this page.)

"We decided to organize Teach Me How to Read because we're aware of a tremendous deficit in the African-American, Hispanic, and other cultures in regards to literacy," Leora Jackson, campaign coordinator, said.  "Federal, state, and local leaders and organizations are teaming up and recognizing that we must address this issue in our local communities.  Consequently, these organizations and businesses are all supporting the campaign."  D'Andre Jones of the Democratic Black Caucus and Terri Walker of Ebony Kids were instrumental in helping organize and manage the campaign.


Photo courtesy of Michael Lafears

Panelists (from left) Michael Lafears, Jr.,
Ms. F. L. Jones, and Rhonda Bell Holmes.

The Panelists

Michael Lafears is originally from Alexandria, Louisiana, and currently lives in Bentonville, Arkansas.  His first self-published book is entitled Words from a Speaking Soul...Life's Unheard Cries.  Michael's poems are inspired by relationships, religion, politics, love, and loss.  As an African-American author, Michael seeks to inspire his readers and provide a positive spin on negative subject matters.

Leora Jackson, pen name F. L. Jones, is a poet, writer, author, actress, and storyteller.  She is the author of Candy Apple: A Diverse Collection of Poems.  Romantic love, inspiration, black history, and deep spirituality are among the themes explored in her poetry.  Leora asks her readers to look deeper into different situations of life through the eyes of the poet, who presents the gift of perception to all who shall see.

Rhonda Bell Holmes is an inspirational writer and speaker.  Her first book, The Word Diet, is a creative tool designed to show readers how to turn struggles into victory through the power of words and the power of prayer.  The Word Diet is endorsed by Kathy Ireland, former supermodel and CEO of the Kathy Ireland Worldwide brand, who wrote the foreword.  The late E. Lynn Harris, a best-selling novelist, and Clinton Presidential Diarist Janis F. Kearney have also endorsed Rhonda's writing.

Dr. Diana Gonzales Worthen is a veteran educator, political activist, and small business owner.  The grand-daughter of immigrants who came to this country seeking a better opportunity for their children, Diana directs Project Teach Them All, a Department of Education grant program providing training for teachers seeking an ESL endorsement.  As an educator in Northwest Arkansas for over 15 years, Diana has taught at Rogers and Springdale Public Schools and the University of Arkansas.

Essay Winners Will Be Recognized.

Winners of the essay contest will be recognized during Thursday's panel discussion.  Those attending are encouraged to bring books with multicultural or bilingual themes for donation to the book drive.  Children who entered the contest and Ebony Kids of Northwest Arkansas will receive the books.


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"Teach Me How to Read...." Book Drive
If you're reading this in early August, 2013, then it's not too late to contribute a book or two for the edification of young readers in northwest Arkansas.  The Northwest Arkansas Democratic Black Causus, Umoja Soul Writers Group, and Ebony Kids of NWA are sponsoring the drive.  Please bring your old or new multicultural and bilingual books to any of six locations in Fayetteville, Bentonville, and Springdale.  You'll find the exact locations in the document on the other side of this link.

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"Teach Me How to Read...." Literacy Contest
Although the contest came to a close in late July, this document serves as an instructive record of an innovative approach to teaching literacy.  Youngsters and teenagers aged seven to 17 were invited to submit a short essay about the importance and benefits of reading.

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Black Business Directory of Northwest Arkansas
Leora Jackson's facebook page for her organization will connect you to a network visited by successful and innovative business owners in northwest Arkansas.  It'something good to like.

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The WORD Diet
How can you create your extraordinary life with your own words? Rhonda Bell Holmes offers stimulating answers to some of life's most meaningful problems in The WORD Diet.  It'something good to like.


contact link

Leora Jackson
is coordinating the panel discussion and the summer literacy campaign. You can contact her by e-mail at, or by phone at 901-340-1966.

contact link

Terri Walker
directs the outreach efforts of Ebony Kids of Northwest Arkansas. You can contact Terri by e-mail at, or by phone at 512-694-8286.



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