While driving around Atlanta’s West End community, you will find colorful mini-libraries in public places. This art project called House of Knowledge (HOK) was developed by an aspirational college student. While volunteering at Paul L. Dunbar Elementary School in Atlanta, Spelman College student Deanna Hayden noticed the low tests scores among African American students. She created the project with a simple concept for participants to read a book, take a book or add a book to the HOK collection. Here, Hayden speaks about her vision of making books accessible to all children.
How does HOK fulfill you?
Creating and organizing the House of Knowledge project has been a life-altering experience and has helped me gain valuable organizational skills. The project has elevated my communication skills and caused me to focus on my passions and ways to make them happen.During my freshman year, I was connected with an elementary school in need of hygiene products. I created a raffle to raise money to purchase the products for the school. I met other freshman students, talked about my idea and got their support. We raised the money to support the school’s student hygiene needs. This project is what led to my HOK community service initiative in Atlanta.
Starting the HOK project has allowed me to enhance the lives of children in the community by helping guide their minds to explore the imagination of books. The experience has enhanced my overall perception of community engagement.
What keeps you motivated?
While going up in rural Mississippi, in Lorman, MS, I was always involved in community service activities, but my most rewarding memories were participating in activities that involved children and interacting with my peers. My brother, Jessie, never enjoyed reading, but throughout college, he realized the greatness hidden in books and the possibilities they can offer. He encouraged me to make the HOK project happen because he realized what he missed by not reading more. He is my biggest fan, outside of my parents. But his story is a reality for a lot of children, especially young boys. My brother is now committed helping children experience more in life and often encourages reading through community service and works with various youth camps.
I am passionate about the community and the work I have helped create with the HOK project which made me realize how much more support our community needs. The children are more appreciative and actually visit HOK locations regularly. That is a welcomed blessing, which has motivated me and helped me realize that anyone can make a difference.
What are your expectations for this initiative?
The HOK project began with the support of Spelman ‘s Bonner Office of Civic Engagement. I hope that the project will gain additional support from local leaders to make this a true community-university effort for Atlanta’s children.
I want other communities to review this model and perhaps come up with ideas of their own to encourage reading among children. I want the House of Knowledge to be a sustainable project for the children of the Atlanta area after I graduate from Spelman.
I would love to work with a graphics artist to develop the HOK logo that can be easily attached to each box. In the fall of 2018, I plan to establish an after-school reading comprehension program in partnership with a local elementary school. The HOK team is currently in the process of searching for locations for the upcoming semester.
If there was one thing in the world that you could change about the world, what would it be?
I would change the course of diversity in the US. It appears that everyone wants to be more concerned about self-interest without the benefit to the whole. We are often divided by our economic, racial, political, and cultural status and it saddens me that America is losing its ability to stand as one. We have lost sight of “Our America” and its initial principles of justice and the protection of all regardless of their beliefs.
I believe the greatest way to explore the world is through books, which stimulates the imagination. Some kids lack reading and comprehension skills and I think that affects their self-confidence. Literacy challenges often leave children left behind and on a path of uncertainty and destruction. We have to remember the importance of building a strong foundation comprised of diverse ideas, backgrounds, and knowledge. I truly believe that it takes a village, a community, doctor’s offices, barbershops, and after school programs etc. to ignite our children’s desire to read more.