I was connected with Tiffany R. Nelson about ten years ago through our love of picture books. I am in awe of her dedication and passion as she provides different ways to support our most vulnerable little learners, and their respective communities. And while we have never met in person, our emails and chats about our hopes and dreams keeps me optimistic that there are gems who sparkle brightly, even when things seem bleak. I present to you my beautiful book lady friend, Tiffany R. Nelson. I look forward to one day meeting my book friend over a delicious meal, with wonderful conversations over our shared love of books.
Tell me about Imagiread? What is the purpose of your organization?
Imagiread started a decade ago. (So hard to believe!) Born out of a love of reading and children’s literature, the purpose back then was to engage families with reasons and ways to spend intentional time reading together. Shortly after the launch (one month later to be exact), I learned that I was presumptuous. A more specific need in the community emerged as culturally responsive and authentic literacy development instruction that supports the whole child, whole school, and whole community. Over the years, I’ve facilitated research and worked tirelessly to align programming with the those needs. From book drives to free literacy programs, I’ve done it all through in and out of school instruction. As a literacy development advocate, I know and understand all too well that the digital divide wasn’t created overnight and that it will require an all-hands-on-deck approach. It’s why a bridge for our scholars, their families, and the supportive community to dive into literacy development and graduate to digital literacy development was designed here recently through programming. It’s how we will ready our children for #thefutureofeducation and #thefutureofwork.
What are some of the struggles faced while running Imagiread, especially during the coronavirus pandemic?
Imagiread has essentially always been a one-woman show. Operationally, it’s been a challenge to sustain management processes while working full-time as a Cultural Communications Consultant and juggling family responsibilities. In the third quarter of 2019, I was prepared to move all of our content online to engage our community with free and low-cost instruction support ethically. Then the pandemic hit shortly after that, and that changed everything. Work got super crazy and time seemed as if it stopped. I knew that there’d be many challenges, including mental health support services, access to quality instruction, and administrative assistance, but I was swamped and couldn’t show up like I wanted, which hurt the most. I put together a few free online resources for the community and posted them, but the consistency wasn’t there. Fast forward to today, where I’ve been able to listen to the more profound need and am actively hosting free programming starting with our The Community is our Business drop-ins where kids can pop on a ZOOM call every third Sunday and learn about whatever they want and/or engage in S.T.E.M.-based programming. We are on target to release our newest stint by August 2021 and hoping the community finds it beneficial.
Tell me something about yourself that others may be surprised to know about you.
I’m extremely sensitive to injustice and oppression. I’ve always been that way, and sometimes I’m so overwhelmed by suffering that I need loads of time to recuperate. What’s happening in the educational world right now has been beyond disturbing, but I feel as if I’ve been doing this “inclusion and diversity” work for so long that it’s time to flex my muscles and keep maneuvering the challenges. In short, I don’t feel like I have to be a superwoman anymore, just present and mindful so that I can contribute joyfully.
In your opinion, how are books impactful?
Where do I begin!!?? Those of us who are bibliophiles and love to read know the value of books. They are compact versions of life’s ultimate adventures consorted for the sake of perspective and reflection. On a grander scale, they are representative of humanity’s collective story. One that can only be told individually and in unison, despite opposition. As a writer, consultant and educator, I’ve always known that stories are all we will ever truly have. It’s the responsibility of the intellect to impart wisdom in others that encourages them to own and share their story. We are all very much connected, and unity consciousness is the overarching goal. Books are the physical manifestation of that goal. We should do everything we can to preserve the manufacturing of books. They hold the master key to life’s authentic living—present history and past futures simultaneously.
Can you share a success story of a child being positively influenced by Imagiread and its mission?
There are so many, but there’s one that I ran across a few weeks back while putting together a presentation for a school. I encountered a sweetheart during a summer session at a local elementary school here in Houston back in 2019. She was considered challenging and unmanageable by her peers, and I was determined to show them another light. Because summer sessions are limited to six visits for about 45 minutes apiece, I made sure that I chose her regularly to assist with classroom management. It was rough at first because she was apprehensive about participating. By my third session, she had completely opened up, waited for me to arrive, and volunteered to assist before I could put my things together. By the fifth session, she had grown so accustomed to participating that she would cry when I chose other scholars. Because Imagiread’s literacy development instruction is built on SEL (social emotional learning) references, I independently worked with her to be aware of her emotions to identify them and work to manage them in a way that served her. The sixth session was rough. I was invested and knew that I wouldn’t see her again. She had a bit of a fit, but I left her with a message that I hope she’ll never forget, and that is that the things we learned together will always be a part of her. In all of my years of teaching, that experience still rings true as the reason Imagiread must prevail. Our children deserve to be heralded in safe spaces. That’s how learning takes flight.
If you had a magic wand, what would you do to grow Imagiread?
I recently applied for capital to organically grow the business aspect of Imagiread and didn’t make it to the semi-finals. I was saddened but encouraged to look at the decision as an opportunity to explore our original values. Through that introspection, I identified the need for a “village”, a network of educators who share a unified vision of transforming today’s scholars into adept creators of tomorrow. I truly believe that community is and will always be the key. Everything else falls into place from there.
Where would you like to see Imagiread in the next five years?
What will be for Imagiread is becoming an ethically designed EdTech company that will serve the whole community with reimagined literacy development instruction. I’ve been chomping at the bit to put together a scholar-center-designed experience that centers S.M.A.R.T. Learning strategies and The Wheel of Imagination. I’m excited to get back into the classroom to facilitate and make sure that the programming serves as intended. Finding new and creative ways to introduce children to the power of stories through multicultural resources is and will continue to be our top priority.
Favorite book quote?
“What’s the world for you if you can’t make it up the way you want it?”
Tiffany R. Nelson, Head Imaginarian
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