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Ferguson Superintendent Asks Celebrities to Help Fund New Literacy Initiative

After Michael Brown was shot and killed in August 2014 in Ferguson, Mo., some celebrities joined in community protests, voiced solidarity with the city on Twitter, or expressed dismay over the police response and the grand jury decision not to indict the officer involved in the teenager's death. 

Now, Ferguson-Florissant Superintendent Joseph Davis is asking some of those same celebrities to put their money where their mouths are and help him raise $2 million to fund FFSD Reads, a new literacy campaign for the district's roughly 11,000 children.

The requests for personal and financial support went out to 170 music, movie, and sport celebrities, including those with roots in the state of Missouri and others who are known for their social-justice activism, according to the district. The district said that actors Don Cheadle, Jon Hamm, Matt Bomer, and John Goodman; singers Sheryl Crow and Akon; and ballerina Misty Copeland—all Missouri natives—were among those whose representatives were sent requests for assistance.

Letters were also sent to representatives for the singer Katy Perry, retired basketball star Magic Johnson, actress and producer Lena Dunham, songwriter and producer Pharrell Williams, singer Rihanna, actress Kerry Washington, and comedian Chris Rock, according to the district.

Davis, who was chosen to lead the Ferguson-Florissant district last year, has spoken repeatedly about his plan to expand educational opportunities for children in the district.

Ferguson-School-Superintendent-Joseph-Davis-blog.jpg

Students in Ferguson-Florissant come from all or part of 11 municipalities in St. Louis County.  The students are predominantly African-American and about 76 percent live in poverty.

"I believe that providing all children with a first-rate education is the single most powerful tool in eradicating bias and building community," Davis wrote, according to the district. "I also believe that to be successful in school and in life, every student must develop a deep love of reading. My own experiences growing up as a Black child in the South—and today as a parent and an educator—have taught me unequivocally that reading is the key to a bright future."

Davis spoke to Education Week last year about how his experience growing up in rural North Carolina helped to shape his education philosophy and his plans to lead the district to academic excellence.

The letters were sent out last week and publicized just this past weekend.

District spokesman Kevin Hampton said the letters were already generating positive responses, although he thinks that many of the intended recipients have not yet received them.

One television actress—who Hampton declined to name because details were still to be worked out—reached out to the district about possibly visiting Ferguson-Florissant to speak to children as part of the literacy initiative.

Another Missouri-based entrepreneur contacted the district about embarking on a six-figure fundraising drive, Hampton said.

"We are just starting to see the response, and it's exciting," Hampton said.

The $2 million reading campaign Davis envisions will pay for new books for classroom libraries; e-readers and interactive software; intensive literacy training for teachers; and materials to help parents and community members read with children.

"We believe this campaign can be a game-changer in our community," Davis said in his letter. "For all those who watched the events in Ferguson and said, 'I wish there were something I could do to help,' this is your chance."

Image Source: Joseph Davis, superintendent of the Ferguson-Florissant School District, describes elements of McCluer High School in Ferguson, Mo., during a tour of the district last August. --Sid Hastings for Education Week-File

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