By Michael Kinney
Throughout his basketball career, Russell Westbrook has played one way. Whenever the Oklahoma City point guard touches the floor, he plays not just to win, but to decimate his competition.
So it should not be a surprise that Westbrook would have the same mindset when faced with off the court adversaries.
In 2015, Westbrook decided to take on illiteracy in America. That was when the first Russell’s Reading Room was opened in Oklahoma City at North Highland Elementary.
Two years later, Westbrook’s motivation hasn’t wavered as he continues to spread the message that reading is important with his reading rooms.
Westbrook and his Why Not? Foundation launched 10 new Russell’s Reading Rooms throughout Oklahoma City March 21. That brings the total number of Russell Reading Rooms to 16 in Oklahoma City and three in Los Angeles.
“With the support over the years of people all over the world supporting my foundation, they’re finding ways to help me make these things possible for the kids,” Westbrook said. “It’s important to be able to constantly keep giving back anyway I can, in as many places I can at the same time.”
Russell’s Reading Rooms are former classrooms that were transformed into a
Russell’s Reading Room is a literacy initiative created by Westbrook’s Why Not? Foundation. They provide students access to more than 1,200 books and a safe environment to read.
The books are provided by Scholastic Books and come in a variety of genres, subject matters and age levels.
When the first reading room opened, students could only come in and read the books at school. Now students at all 19 schools can also purchase books to take home and keep.
“Literacy is very important to me and my foundation and what I believe in,” Westbrook said. “It starts young, in elementary. I think kids, once they get a room like this, they feel excited about it. Something new. New books. You get an opportunity to take the books home, share with their family, come back here, I think it makes it fun for them.”
Joining Adams in the newest group of schools to open a reading room in Oklahoma City were Arthur, Bodine , Britton, Edgemere, Green Pastures, Gatewood, Greystone, Oakridge and Pierce elementary schools.
“It means a great deal to our community to our families for Russell to come I and give some attention to our kids here on the southside of Oklahoma City,” Adams principal Heather Zacarias said. “It encourages reading, it encourages that community feel that he is a part of Oklahoma City. Just really appreciate what he did for our school.”
Westbrook was only able to attend the ribbon cutting at Adams. There he was greeted in the new Reading Room by a group of students who read the most books over the school year. As he helped them pick out books to take home, one of the kids found “Year in Sports: 2016,” which had Westbrook in it.
“Man that’s crazy. I have ever seen myself in a book like that,” Westbrook said. “I tried to play it cool in front of the kids. But it’s pretty cool to be able to see that. When I was a kid and go to the library and look at Kobe Bryant, Shaq Shaquille O’Neal) and other people in the little sports books. It’s pretty cool to see it here in the reading room.”
The Why Not? Foundation, in partnership with Scholastic Books, sponsored school-wide book fairs at each of the 10 schools that opened up a reading room in March. The students received a gift certificate from Russell’s foundation that entitled them to one free book.
“The proceeds from that sale go back into the school and we can use it to buy more books for this room, furniture for this room,” Zacarias said. “Scholastic has partnered in a way that not only allows us to give the student a free book, but also receiving some profit for that.”
For Chris Mueller, the Scholastic Field Sales Manager, the Russell Reading Room book fair is a great way to encourage independent reading among children with their families.
“The key here is it talks about family engagement,” Mueller said. “We stress at scholastic all about independent reading. That’s what book fairs are all about. Independent reading is when they do it on their own. If they do it on their own, they’re going to become better readers. And when the families get involved, like with Russell’s Reading Room, we encourage that independent reading will grow even more.”
The fact Westbrook has 19 reading just two years after he opened his first still comes as a shock to him. But he is far from being satisfied.
“I was just hoping I could constantly keep growing it and growing it,” Westbrook said. “Now I am here, about to be at 20, which is great. I will keep going until I can go anymore. Keep trying to find ways to reach out to different communities.”
Story ran in The Yukon Review. Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer with Eyeamtruth.com