As part of her senior capstone, Attiah Brockington developed Project Community, a neighborhood organization aimed at stemming the tide of youth violence in Philadelphia.
In Attiah Brockington’s West Philadelphia neighborhood of Kingsessing, residents generally have to travel a mile or two to the nearest library, a distance far enough to make it a common roadblock. Limited operating hours also force many people, especially children, to skip perusing the shelves and checking out their favorite books.
“If you need to go to the library, tough luck,” she says. “It’s just disheartening.”
Brockington recently graduated from Jefferson, but she says she learned a valuable lesson on her first day in its law and society program—one she hopes will boost literacy rates in one the city’s poorer sections and beyond.
“My whole college career has just fostered that kind of activism that if you don’t like something, if you want to see a change, you have to go out and make the change,” she says. “What can we do to take that power back?”
As part of her senior capstone at Jefferson, Brockington developed Project Community, a neighborhood organization aimed at stemming the tide of youth violence in Philadelphia. Last year, she hosted a forum where kids could freely share their feelings about crime in their communities and schools. Their eloquence about the growing problem surprised Brockington, who quickly saw a theme develop with their heartfelt stories.
“These kids feel hopeless in the inner-city because every time they turn around, all they see in their communities is violence, drugs and different things that don’t reflect them or how they feel,” says Brockington, a lifelong Philadelphia resident.
These kids feel hopeless in the inner-city because every time they turn around, all they see in their communities is violence, drugs and different things that don’t reflect them or how they feel.
— Tia Brockington
They desired ways to feel empowered and positively impact their neighborhoods, emotions that sparked an idea that tied back to her concerns about library access and literacy.
While working at William Penn Charter School, Brockington noticed Little Free Libraries around its campus. These small, unmanned stations allow students to take out a book whenever they wish. Once they finish reading it, they can easily return it for a new one.
Brockington loved the honor-system concept and now plans to bring these same welcoming book exchanges to the underserved areas of the city, namely in North, Southwest and West Philly, with the first one at the corner of 56th and Woodland.
“In my area, there’s a lot of talk of being an athlete or entertainer,” she says. “Those things are great, but there’s not a drive toward academics, activism and empowerment of minorities. That’s really important to me, and it’s something I learned at Jefferson. I want to go out and spread that to my community.”
Over 60 percent of low-income families don’t have any age-appropriate books for their kids at home, according to Little Free Library. In addition, Philadelphia ranks low among big cities in reading proficiency, and in 2014, black and Latino students showed a 29-point gap in reading proficiency rates compared to white and Asian students, the Notebook reports.
Brockington wants to be the change to put a dent in these numbers. She hosted a flea market on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to raise money to buy her first Little Free Library. In addition, she’s holding a book drive to beef up to her collection. Brockington soon will launch her first library, with others to follow. Eventually, she wants to create a network of Little Free Libraries in the city.
As director of the law and society program at Jefferson, Evan Laine has known Brockington since her freshmen year and has continually admired her dedication to the betterment of her community.
“She fully understands the value of and need for public service,” he said. “Her unselfish work is something to be admired and emulated.”
Her unselfish work is something to be admired and emulated.
— Evan Laine, Director of the Law and Society Program at Jefferson
Representatives from the Wisconsin-based non-profit Little Free Library also see the hope that Brockington shines on the city.
“The mission of the Little Free Library is to inspire readers and build community by fostering neighborhood book exchanges around the world,” says Margret Aldrich, the organization’s media and programming manager. “Attiah is bringing that spirit of unity and literacy to Philadelphia with her Little Free Libraries, and we applaud her. In our eyes, she’s a neighborhood hero.”