Feature: St. Louis American

Wesley Bell, the first African American to serve as St. Louis County prosecutor, vividly remembered two books that transformed his relationship with reading when delivering the keynote address at Books N Bros’ sold-out inaugural Black Excellence in Literacy Gala Sunday night at Innovation Hall.

The first was the Wilson Rawlings novel “Where The Red Fern Grows.” Bell still hadn’t developed a passion for reading when he was assigned the book in third or fourth grade, but he still thought, “This is a good book.”

But as a 13-year-old student at Kirby Junior High School, he stumbled upon “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” when his teacher took him to the school library for an assignment that changed his relationship with books forever. He knew the name, but had no idea there was a book about him – let alone in his school library.

“It was like I discovered a lost treasure,” Bell said. “I was like, ‘They have a book on Malcolm X!’ If we want to reach our young people, we have to find what interests them. Often times its someone or something that they can identify with.”

At 13, Books N Bros founder Sidney Keys III is the same age as Bell was when he found the book that sparked his interest in reading. Through his book club, Keys has been promoting literacy among young black boys. Keys’ journey with Books N Bros also began when he found a common bond within the pages of a book.

His mother, Winnie Caldwell, took Keys to Eye See Me Books – a specialty store that focuses on African-American children’s literature.

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