Vikings defensive end helps promote literacy locally

Erasmus James signed autographs and passed out books at the event.

Amber Schadewald

A crowd of more than 125 children gathered between the deli and the produce section at a Cub Foods in North Minneapolis, anxious to receive free books, cookies and an autograph from Minnesota Vikings player Erasmus James.

“If you open a book, you can open your mind,” Sherman Patterson, policy aide for the Minneapolis Mayor’s office, told children Tuesday night at the kickoff of the African American Read-In Program.

Terrance, age 11, couldn’t stop smiling after he met the football player.

“I’m a big fan,” he said of James.

Ezra Hyland, a continuing education lecturer at the University, coordinated the event, which is part of a nationwide initiative to encourage literacy.

Hyland said the intent of the program is to get people reading more in their daily lives, at school, work and at home.

The African American Read-In is in its 11th year in Minnesota, and has since spurred a handful of reading groups, including Black Men Reading, a book club that has now been meeting for five years.

The program also hopes to start a chess club this summer for kids in North Minneapolis.

Literature provides people with different perspectives on the world, Hyland said.

“Most of the problems we have in the world today are because we haven’t learned to look through the eyes of other people,” he said.

He also said he considers literacy to be a public safety issue – reading can serve as a crime preventative.

The more education people have, the less likely they are to end up in jail, he said. “And the foundation of all learning is literacy.”

Tuesday’s event began with two spoken word artists and inspirational words from Patterson and other community members, reiterating the importance of literacy.

Members of the Minneapolis Police and former Vikings players were in attendance, along with curious shoppers.

All of the children were given three books, an African American history brochure and Vikings memorabilia, all of which were donated to the program.

James answered questions from the audience: his favorite children’s book is “Where the Wild Things Are.” And yes, he has tackled Brett Favre, a Green Bay Packers player.

This is the second year James has volunteered for the event, and he said it’s the kids who brought him back and the importance of literacy in their lives.

“(Kids) need to be able to tell adults what they need, so we can understand what they are going through,” he said. “Literacy helps them learn how to explain themselves.”

Maiceo, 13, said James has inspired him to do great things with his future, which he hopes will include a combination of basketball and poetry.

“You can be anything you want to be, child,” Maiceo told 8-year-old Tailyr, who was at the event wearing a pink Vikings jersey. “Just stay in school.”

Ed Anderson, the Cub Foods director, said they pride themselves on being a neighborhood store.

Even though they are just a grocery store, he said, you can’t thrive in the community without putting effort back into it.

Anderson said he loved the event’s turnout and being able to steer the children in a positive direction.

“They’re our future shoppers,” he said.