Bonus Episode: Cleveland Reads Kickoff

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Show Notes

Join us behind the scenes at the kickoff event for Cleveland Reads, the citywide reading challenge that tasks Clevelanders with reading a million books and/or minutes in 2023!

Featured in this episode:

  • Justin Bibb, Mayor of Cleveland
  • John Marshall High School Marching Band
  • Jen Jumba, Cleveland Public Library
  • Felton Thomas, Jr., Cleveland Public Library Executive Director and CEO
  • Randi Weingarten, American Federation of Teachers President
  • Tracy Martin, Cleveland Public Library
  • Matt Weinkam, Literary Cleveland Director
  • Nancy Mocsiran, Cleveland Public Library
  • Marcus Reid, Cleveland Public Library
  • Margo Hudson, Seeds of Literacy

The kickoff event was held Saturday, December 17, 2022, in the Public Auditorium in downtown Cleveland. Additional Cleveland Reads events and programs will be held through 2023. Visit to register and participate.

With special thanks to all Cleveland Reads partner organizations, especially the City of Cleveland, Cleveland Metropolitan School District, American Federation of Teachers, and the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority.



Mayor Bibb (00:04):
We've got a big goal, everybody. We gotta read a million books this year. Can we do it? Can we do it?

Laura Maylene Walter (00:14):
You're listening to the John Marshall High School Marching Band performing at the Cleveland Reads kickoff event back in December, when Mayor Justin Bibb announced this yearlong citywide reading program. Welcome to Page Count presented by the Ohio Center for the Book at Cleveland Public Library. I'm your host, Laura Maylene Walter, and I was there at the kickoff event on December 17 in Public Auditorium to speak with volunteers, library staff, literacy advocates, partners and others about this special initiative. A million books or a million minutes of reading: that's the goal for Cleveland in 2023. For more on this challenge, let's hear from Jen Jumba, the People's University Coordinator at Cleveland Public Library.

Jen Jumba (00:52):
Cleveland Reads is a challenge that was thrown down by Mayor Bibb, where he wants people to rediscover the joy of reading. He has challenged Clevelanders to read a million books and or a million minutes. So for those of you who read newspapers, that time counts. You're filling out a job application online? That counts too. You're reading a book? That counts. So what he has challenged is for Clevelanders to do this collectively to pull the community together. So we're lucky that we have about 30 community partners across the city who have really united to pull us all together. And the event so far is going amazing. We've all been working so hard for the last several months and to kind of see it all come together today is amazing. Kids have these smiles on their faces. Kids are walking out with not one, not two, but like three and four bags worth of books, which is what this whole initiative is all about.

Laura Maylene Walter (01:43):
Felton Thomas, Jr., Cleveland Public Library Director and CEO, shares what he hopes this challenge will do for the city.

Director Thomas (01:50):
We have an opportunity to really start to change the narrative about how people think of Cleveland. We want them to talk about Cleveland in 2024...we want to talk about "Cleveland: that's the city that reads."

Laura Maylene Walter (02:02):
One of the best parts of this event was the free books. The American Federation of Teachers provided 40,000 books to give away. Here, AFT President Randi Weingarten addresses the crowd.

Randi Weingarten (02:23):
How many people like books? How many people love to read? <cheers> So the Mayor has given all of us a charge, which is a million minutes of reading, a million books. But what we are trying to do as the Cleveland Teachers Union, as the Ohio Federation of Teachers, and as the AFT, is we are trying to make sure that we get books into the hands of kids and they have 'em at home. Is that a good goal? We still need libraries, and we still need school libraries, but we want to make sure that kids have books. So, this is what the AFT is doing. Last year, in 200 different events, we gave out a million books.. And this year, starting in Cleveland, we're giving out another million books, because we we want to create a nation of joyful and confident readers. Are you with me? Are you with me? <cheers> Are we going to read? Are we going to make sure Cleveland reads? Thank you.

Laura Maylene Walter (03:38):
Honestly, I had a blast at this event. I danced with SpongeBob Squarepants, I roller skated, I colored a book-themed map, I watched kids take free books home, and I also made sure to talk to a few volunteers and partners about the event and why reading matters.

Tracy Martin (03:53):
Hi, my name is Tracy Martin. I am in the External Relations Department at Cleveland Public Library, and I'm volunteering at today's event. The size and the scope of this event, I mean we're filling Public Auditorium. It's a huge building and there are a ton of people here. It's been an amazing success. I was involved in a little bit with the planning of the event and so I'm delighted to see the turnout of people that have come today and they're leaving with bags full of books. I think the books, free books that the teachers union got for us to give away, are probably one of my favorite things that is happening here. It doesn't matter if you're three or 63, there are benefits to reading, and even if you don't think you're good at it, what you do to learn how to read is you read, you just read. You practice reading and it doesn't matter what you read, it doesn't matter if you're reading a reading card or a novel or a comic book or the newspaper or a bus. Just read. Just read <laugh>.

Matt Weinkam (04:53):
I'm Matt Weinkam with Literary Cleveland. And we're here because we love books and writing. [The event is] unbelievable. We've got a roller skating rink, we've got 40,000 books to give away, and we've got families from all across town who are here because they love reading. We're gonna read a million books as a city, and Literary Cleveland's here to help you do that. So, adults, children, family, join us and read as many books as you can this coming year.

Nancy Mocsiran (05:17):
Hi, I'm Nancy Mocsiran. I'm the knowledge manager at the Cleveland Public Library, and I am here today to celebrate reading. I think this is the best initiative that the city could possibly do for the coming year. I think reading is, it's my favorite pastime and hobby, and I think it's the single most important thing you can do for yourself to make yourself more educated and aware of the world.

Marcus Reid (05:48):
Hi, my name is Marcus Reid. I work in the IT Department, so I help optimize and develop software for the Library. And I'm here just volunteering today, hoping everybody has a good time. It's a very noble journey, it's very helpful to the community. It's gonna help everybody. The goal that they have is to read a million books and that is gonna just bring everybody up to the place. Cleveland needs to be improving literacy, and it's very noble that they're doing it.

Laura Maylene Walter (06:16):
I also managed a quick interview with Margo Hudson. Margo is quite literally one of the faces of Cleveland Reads. She's pictured on some of the RTA buses promoting the challenge. I talked with her about Cleveland's literacy challenges, her personal story, and how she's involved.

Margo Hudson (06:32):
My name is Margo Hudson, and I'm with a free adult GED program, one-to-one tutoring, Seeds of Literacy. I was a student at Seeds of Literacy. I didn't finish high school. I only went to like the ninth grade. So I've been to different GED programs and stop and start, you know, life gets in the way, you have to work. So once I started working at the airport cleaning planes, I was like, I have to get my GED. So I reached out to First Call for Help. They directed me to that lovely organization, Seeds of Literacy, and that is where my journey began. I received my GED after taking the test six times in 2012 at the age of 52. So after that, I tried college, it just wasn't a fit for me at that time. So I said, well, you know, I said to myself, I'm just gonna go back and volunteer. And I thought I would do some filing, putting books on the shelf, but they asked me to tutor. So I've been tutoring now for almost 10 years. I love it. Along with tutoring, again, I'm still at the airport, but I do a lot for our community. I'm out in the community sharing my stories, go to the shelters, library programs, food pantries, talking to people about getting their GED, and I love it.

Laura Maylene Walter (07:58):
And can you tell us a bit about the literacy needs in Cleveland and maybe some of the people who come to Seeds of Literacy to get assistance?

Margo Hudson (08:07):
The need is unlimited, and we are not talking even on a GED level. We're just talking about the basic day-to-day: reading a bus schedule, reading a prescription bottle, reading your receipt at the grocery store. There's really a need for literacy in our community. They come to Seeds of Literacy, and some of them might have a GED, but they want to brush up on their skills in math or reading. And sometimes they come there and they're applying for a job, so they gotta take this math test. You can come there and do that with us.

Laura Maylene Walter (08:46):
So now we are here celebrating Cleveland Reads. Can you tell us about your involvement in this program? What is Cleveland Reads and what do you want Cleveland to know, know about it?

Margo Hudson (08:56):
Well, I'm so thankful that Mayor Bibb took this on to do this reading bash, read a million books or read a million minutes, just being a part of it. Again, I wasn't a reader when I was a kid. I got a love for reading as I got older. So for him to put this project on is dear to my heart. He cares about education, and more people need to be involved in it. We need to do this more.

Laura Maylene Walter (09:26):
And my last question, an important one: Your image is on some of the RTA buses in Cleveland. What is that like for you?

Margo Hudson (09:33):
Oh, the first time I seen the bus in person, I had tears. I saw it again this morning and I'm screaming, "oh, there's me on the bus." Words cannot describe it, to be a part of this and to be on four RTA buses. Oh, getting that GED made it all possible to be the face on the RTA bus. The goal is to get everybody involved in reading. That's the goal.

Laura Maylene Walter (10:02):
Okay. A million books, a million minutes spent reading, however you want to count it, 2023 is the year to read. If you live in Cleveland, join me, and the Mayor, everyone at Cleveland Public Library, our partners, and countless others in tracking your reading to help our city rise to the challenge. If you missed the kickoff event, that's okay because Cleveland Reads will have more events and programs throughout 2023. Visit, which I'll link to in the show notes, to register and learn more.

Laura Maylene Walter (10:29):
Page Count is presented by the Ohio Center for the book at Cleveland Public Library. Learn more online or find a transcript of this episode at, follow us on Twitter @cplocfb, or find us on Facebook. If you'd like to get in touch, email and put "podcast" in the subject line.

Director Thomas (10:55):
We're really appreciative of all the folks who have volunteered their time to be here to make this a really great experience for our community.

Laura Maylene Walter (11:04):
Happy reading, everyone!

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