That’s one of the points an award-winning author made Thursday to Jonesborough Middle School students.
Thanks to a grant from Humanities Tennessee, students heard a presentation by Andrew Maraniss, author of the New York Times bestseller “Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South.” The students also received a copy of his best-selling book, chronicling the life and struggles of the Southeastern Conference’s first African-American basketball player.
Maraniss spoke about Wallace, his book and the central themes of race, discrimination and courage and the importance of empathy and understanding.
This lecture was provided as a part of Humanities Tennessee’s “School Reader Day” program.
Maraniss gave students a brief overview of Wallace’s life as a black man in the 1960s who pushed his way to play basketball for Vanderbilt while fighting racism and discrimination. He made a point to students that racial barriers are still being broken to this day.
“It’s a book about a sports and civil rights pioneer, but I think it’s so much more than that,” he said. “It’s about a person who was a teenager who was overcoming a lot of obstacles in life and being different and excluded, and I think those are themes that kids from whatever background can relate to.”
In her eight years at Jonesborough Middle, school librarian Casey LaVoie said she can’t remember a time when an author has come to speak to the kids, mostly due to a lack of funding. She said she was excited to receive the offer from Humanities Tennessee, and said that seemed to be mirrored in the students that day.
“I knew the kids would be excited, but I’m kind of surprised at how excited they’ve been today,” LaVoie said.
Each of the 400 students at the school received a young adult edition of Maraniss’ book, and some flipped through the pages as they prepared to leave for the day.
The school was one stop among many across the nation for Maraniss, but he noted the history of Jonesborough during his visit and said talking to students in Tennessee’s oldest town fit well with his topic of the history of sports and civil rights.
Strong Inside is Maraniss’ first book, which he said took him about eight years to research, write and market, and was originally written for adults. He adapted it into a version for kids, which is what he autographed and gave out for students on Thursday.
He said adapting the book for kids and going around to speak at schools has been rewarding, adding that he’s considering aiming his next book at being a children’s book from the start.
“It’s so rewarding to see an impact on a kid, nothing beats that,” he said.
Email Jessica Fuller at [email protected]. Follow Jessica on Twitter @fullerjf91. Like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jfullerJCP.