NBA champs champion literacy for Bay Area youth

Marcus-Books-mother-daughter-duo-Cherysse-and-Akaysha-Calhoun-table-in-Warriors-Thrive-City-010724-by-Kia-Shaun-Walton, NBA champs champion literacy for Bay Area youth, Local News & Views
Third and fourth generation Marcus Books mother-daughter duo Cherysse and Akaysha Calhoun table with culturally relevant children’s books in Warriors’ “Thrive City.” – Photo: Kia Shaun Walton


PHOTO: Children get books at Warriors’ Read to Achieve Night by Kia Shaun Walton

CAPTION: Bite-sized Warriors fans load up on books before the game from five literacy organizations at Warriors’ Read to Achieve Night, presented by Ross. – Photo: Kia Shaun Walton

by Kia Shaun Walton

On Sunday evening, Jan. 7, before the Golden State Warriors tipped off against the Toronto Raptors, school aged fans were scoring bags of books at the Warriors’ Read to Achieve Night. Presented by Ross, “the Read to Achieve Program is a literacy initiative that aims to improve youth reading proficiency among Bay Area elementary students.”

Marcus Books, the oldest Black owned bookstore in the country, set up shop in the Warriors’ “Thrive City” where ticket holding fans and the general public could purchase books ranging from kindergarten to fifth grade to keep or donate. The Oakland based “cultural and literary landmark” specializes in book selections that represent writers and readers within the Black Diaspora. 

Cherysse Calhoun, third generation co-owner of Marcus Books, shared: “Today [it] is important just that we support the children, that they know that, that they can see themselves represented in books. A lot of times when they go into classrooms, they don’t usually see their faces. But when they come into the store, they see [themselves] not just in the children’s section, but in every section – in history, in fiction, in religion, [in] self-help.”

Just inside the arena, game goers visited five organizations that support childhood literacy. Among them was Raising a Reader, “a national non-profit [whose] main focus is creating literacy programs with educators,” said Philip Chavez, who encourages “reading at home because that’s where it starts.” Additionally, Mariana, an employee of Tandem, Partners in Early Learning, works with children aged 0-5, “just trying to get more books out to the community in low income communities … this year focusing on nature, science and conservation.” With children’s books available in 15 languages, Tandem. Partners in Early Learning, is making an effort to make reading accessible to the linguistically diverse Bay Area. 

Children-get-books-at-Warriors-Read-to-Achieve-Night-by-Kia-Shaun-Walton, NBA champs champion literacy for Bay Area youth, Local News & Views
Bite-sized Warriors fans load up on books before the game from five literacy organizations at Warriors’ Read to Achieve Night, presented by Ross. – Photo: Kia Shaun Walton

For the majority of the nation’s fourth graders, however, access to these texts, even in their first language, may prove challenging. According to the 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress, almost 70 percent of California fourth graders read below proficiency.

In support of developing readers, Reading Partners is a non-profit that “find[s] volunteer tutors from the community who have an hour a week to spend with a young student … [to] help them reach reading at grade level by the fourth grade,” explained Matthew Macgill. Kathleen Mautner of Community Reading Buddies shared, “We train high school students to become reading mentors for kindergarten through third graders … who need a little extra reading support.” Mautner adds, “We also train our youth mentors in really valuable social-emotional skills like communication and problem solving and leadership.”  

San Francisco-based 826 Valencia “provide[s] students with individualized support that they might not normally be able to receive in classrooms due to large class sizes,” says Joe Totterdell. Additionally, young readers are supported to become published writers at 826 Valencia. Perhaps these young writers will see their books on Marcus Books’ shelves as future authors.

Marcus Books laid out a colorful spread of nearly 100 children’s books including LeBron James’ “I Promise,” The Smithsonian’s “Children’s Illustrated Atlas,” an “Asian American A-Z,” “A Children’s Guide to Our History,” and dozens of eye-catching and culture embracing illustrated hardbacks. 

Akaysha Calhoun, representing the fourth generation of Marcus Books, “grew up in the book store,” and reflects, “I never felt inferior because I knew. I read books about Black doctors and Black artists … Black painters, Black musicians. It was always known to me that Black people were great and that I was everywhere, that they are everywhere.” Confident, self-assured, making their way through art school, Akaysha is the pride of any parent – early literacy, a key component. 

While Klay Thompson was helping the Warriors close a 27-point gap, the Read to Achieve program, partnering with local organizations, is helping to close a national literacy gap. With “exciting year-round activities and experiences, the program promotes a love of reading and sets students up for success in school and beyond.” Though the Warriors did not claim the win, Bay Area readers surely can. 

Kia Shaun Walton (she/he) is a freelance journalist and educator working in the Bay Area. Kia is committed to justice, integrity and community. Please direct any inquiries to