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A night of silent reading promotes a culture of books

on November 21, 2019

On Saturday, dozens of people attended a “silent reading night” that was organized by staffers from Acta Non Verba (ANV). This year’s event marked the 9th anniversary of ANV in East Oakland, which engages kids and teenagers through organizing camps at which participants learn how to farm using the available land in urban communities.

The event was held at the serene Lake Merritt Sailboat House and was an evening of soothing music, elegant dining, and wine toasting. The goals were two-fold; ANV was holding an award ceremony for members of staff and Oaklanders who have exhibited outstanding service to the community. Among the recipients were Sarah Miller (staff member of the year), Jerrisa Parham (board member of the year), Mary Ann Scheuer (donor of the year), and California Assemblyman Rob Bonta (elected official of the year). The other part of the evening was a silent fundraiser that raised approximately $5,000. All proceeds from the fundraiser will go towards expanding urban farming programs.

According to Kelly Carlisle, the founder and executive director of ANV, silent moments while reading allow a person to reflect on their individual worth and how to become more productive. On this occasion, the silence was dedicated to asking the adults present to reflect on how best to help Oakland youth.  

Unlike other reading sessions during which participants may slouch, attendees for this evening sat in a ballroom table setting during the silent reading session. People showed a high level of concentration, and almost no one moved during the exercise. Though the organizers put several books on display, revelers came with their own personal books.

Watching on the sidelines of the event, Carlisle said they have three farms within the city. According to Carlisle, ANV has an eighth of an acre in West Oakland and rents another piece of land from Oakland Parks and Recreation. All produce goes to Mandela Food Co-ops, an Oakland worker-owned full-service grocery store, and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs.

“On these farms, the kids, ages between 5 and 15, plant, harvest and sell the products that we grow. One hundred percent of those dollars go in individual savings accounts for their education,” said Carlisle. 

ANV holds seasonal day camps on weekends. “We run eight weeks in the spring and summer, typically one week in the fall and two weeks during winter,” she said. According to Carlisle, each year, about 300 kids participate in the program. 

The keynote speaker was Justina Ireland, The New York Times bestselling author of Dread Nation, a fictional story about a girl’s journey through a hostile world. Ireland has also written the young adult fantasy Devils’ Pass series with titles such as Evie Allen vs the Quiz Bowl Zombies, a story about a smart girl who leads her school’s quiz bowl team. 

In her speech to the packed house, Ireland said, “I’m here because Kelly Carlisle is doing an amazing job in helping the youth in Oakland. I have admired her inspiring work for so long. When she invited me to be the keynote speaker on an event that celebrates reading, I had no second thoughts about it. [Her] work on helping the youth builds a strong tomorrow, and I applaud everyone who is helping in creating a sustainable community.” 

She went on to advise parents to promote a culture of reading. “Let us not make reading a chore, but a celebration. We can’t have writers if we don’t read,” she emphasized.

During the silent reading session that lasted for half an hour, the guests perused their books of interest. Jackson Summers was reading The Land of Painted Caves by Jean M. Auel, a historical novel that describes the life of a spiritual leader during the Paleolithic era. “I picked this one for a reason, because this event is all about our children and Mother Earth. What more would I look for?” said Summers.

Books like Nobody’s Boy by Grover Wilcox, which tells a story of a boy who grew up abused and neglected but later became a teacher, and All Together Now by Gill Hornby, a story about a small town that finds solace through music, were among the evening’s favorites.

Among the many guests in attendance was Willow Blish, the leader of the Slow Food East Bay chapter. In explaining why she attended, she said, “My organization’s purpose is to counter the rise of fast foods that are no good to our children. When I read about Acta Non Verba and what they do, we started supporting it, and I hope all of us understand the importance of healthy eating.”

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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