Author Jason Reynolds meets thousands of Arlington Heights students
"The greatest gift you can give yourself is yourself," said author Jason Reynolds to an audience of 120 students at Our Lady of the Wayside School, Thursday morning, November 8. Reynolds continued his conversation with students the next day at South Middle School and Thomas Middle School and by the end of his visit, he spoke to 1,870 Arlington Heights students.
Reynolds also spoke at Forest View Auditorium during his two-day visit to Arlington Heights, where he captivated an audience of more than 300 people who came to hear the award-winning, bestselling author speak. Reynolds is known for writing young adult novels including All American Boys, As Brave As You, the Track series, Miles Morales: Spider-Man, Long Way Down and For Every One.
Many of the people in attendance at Forest View were high school teachers and students who had recently read Jason Reynolds' Long Way Down in class.
"There was a sense of accomplishment for a lot of kids who've never read a book," said Anthony Como, an English teacher at Rolling Meadows High School while talking about the impact Reynolds' books have had on his students. "One of my students [told me]: 'This is the first book I've finished and now I enjoy reading.'"
During his appearances, Reynolds told stories about growing up in Washington D.C. that ranged from how he was inspired to write poetry after listening to Queen Latifah's 1993 rap album Black Reign to his struggles of getting into literature at an early age.
"I felt like these books weren't interested in reading me," Reynolds said as he talked about his struggle to relate to characters in books like Lord of the Flies and Of Mice and Men. He ended up reading his first book, Black Boy by Richard Wright, when he was 18 years old, which inspired him to go back and read the books he missed while in middle school and high school.
Following each of his presentations, Reynolds went on to answer questions during a Q&A session, and he emphasized how important it is for students to know that everyone's story matters.
"I want you to love my stories, but not as much as I want you to love your own," he said, a message that resonated with many including Arlington Heights residents Dana Trawczynski and her son, William.
"I think it's great how he said to be the best you, you can be," Trawczynski said. "It is a really strong message to give kids to be yourself. I don't think they hear that enough."
Jason Reynolds' visits to four area schools were made possible thanks to a partnership between the Arlington Heights Memorial Library and local schools.