'Real Men Read' program aims to motivate CPS boys and girls to love books, enjoy reading

Thousands of children and many of their mentors celebrated the culmination of the first year of the Real Men Read program May 30 at a picnic on Northerly Island. During the Real Men Read program, a partnership of the Chicago public schools and Chase bank, adult, male mentors read to students in the second, fifth, and seventh grades of 39 schools, primarily in the North Lawndale, South Lawndale and Englewood communities. Each mentor worked with the same classroom of students and led a discussion for one hour, once a month, January through May.

“We had 300 mentors from all walks of life, from bankers and lawyers to teachers and local businessmen,” Board spokesperson Laura Bendixon told Substance. Chicago Board of Education President Rufus Williams launched the program this year. “The original program started when [Chief Education Officer] Barbara Eason-Watkins was principal at McCosh and had a similar program at her school,” Bendixon told Substance. “Mr. Williams loved the concept and decided to expand it.”

The CPS Director of Literacy Jodi Dodds Kinner told Substance that she met with Williams once a month to read with him and select the books to be used in the program. She called him a “great example of a literacy.” The CPS Office of Literacy provided the books and lesson plans to the mentors. These can be viewed at the web site The children in the second, fifth and seventh grades in the participating schools received copies of the five books their mentors read, as well as two additional books given out at the May 30 event at Northerly Island.

Joe Carter, a vice president in private client services at JP Morgan Chase Bank, read to students in Mary Agate’s second grade in the Henson school.

Carter and Agate told Substance that the program was a success. “I enjoyed the sessions and the children,” Carter said. “I feel that they enjoyed seeing me as much as I enjoyed seeing them. I believe it was time well spent.”

“I thought it was an excellent program,” Agate told Substance. “Mr. Carter was an excellent reader.”

Carter said that of the five books he read to the children his favorite was “The Three Little Javelinas,” a Three Little Pigs adaptation. Carter told Substance that, as a banker, he appreciated that the story “taught a lesson about building a solid foundation for the future and helping your fellow man and woman.”

Carter told Substance that he would “absolutely” recommend the program to other professionals.

“I heard about the program through a community organization and I signed up,” Carter said. “Later did I realize that my bank was a sponsor.”

Carter, originally from Louisiana, said reading and education are important to him. “ I try to make learning a habit for my children,” he said. “I want them to enjoy reading and learning about the world. My parents were educators and the gift of learning was given to me at an early age.”

When Carter first met with the students at Henson, he showed them pictures of his two boys, teacher Mary Agate told Substance.

“He connected very well with the kids,” Agate said. “They looked forward to his visits.”

Carter told Substance that the lesson plans were very thorough. Agate, who said she reads aloud regularly with her class, said that she did not need to do much preparation with her students for Carter’s visits.

“It was a little sad” when the program was over, Carter said. He mentioned that Agate was retiring this year. She told Substance that she taught in the Chicago public schools for 34 years. According to the Real Men Read web site, the program has a “four-fold purpose: 1) to demonstrate to students that real men do in fact read and that real men value education; 2) To encourage and improve literacy skills among CPS students; 3) To provide mentoring opportunities for men with CPS students; 4) To raise awareness of the importance of student achievement and community partnerships.” 


October 2, 2016 at 11:54 AM

By: Tracey Jackson

Real Men Read

My x- husband participated in the Real Men Read program and loved it! It gave him and opportunity to give back/ build self esteem and encourage young African Americans.

It was also a humbling experience as he realized one hour once a month could impact a life time. I want to resurrect this program but not sure where to start? Any help or guidance would be appreciated.

October 5, 2016 at 9:06 AM

By: K.Nichols

Real Men Read

Re: Tracey Jackson

Ms. Jackson, you may want to contact John Fountain, who has written several columns published in the Sun Times about his efforts as a participant among a group of men who visited an elementary school to read to the younger students.

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