LEWISBURG — The Susquehanna Valley Ethical Society (SVES) celebrated Black History Month with a live reading of children's books each week on Facebook Live.

The project, which was coordinated by the society's Secular Ethical Education for Kids program (SEEK) and committee chair Jessi Almstead, is a three-book series that touches on three periods of American history: the emancipation, civil rights and the election of President Barack Obama. The final reading will take place at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday on the Susquehanna Valley Ethical Society's Facebook page.

"It's important for people of all backgrounds to understand the struggles of a group of people who are essential to American history and culture, and to learn from those people and moments in time," said Almstead. "The nature of racism has changed over the years. We know it's still a problem in our country and we need to learn how to care for people and stand up for what's fair and right and just. We believe that starts with children."

The first reading was "Bread for Words: A Frederick Douglass Story" by Shana Keller on Feb. 10. The second reading was "The story of Ruby Bridges" by Robert Coles on Feb. 17. The final reading will be "Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope" by Nikki Grimes on Wednesday. Each video is less than 20 minutes long.

With each reading, Almstead shares a project that children can do at home. The first reading was a puppet, the second reading was a book with child-friendly research terms and the final project will be a timeline, she said.

SVES wants to promote the concept of "Sankofa," an African word from the Akan tribe in Ghana that means "going back and fetching," said Almstead.

"It's going back into the history of your people to take moments in time that will help inform the present and the future, learning from the past," she said. "We chose to do it that way because it's more broad and allows people to appreciate a culture beyond the traditional way of celebrating specific people."

The feedback has been positive, she said.

Cathleen Adams, of Lewisburg, the mother of Willa Blum, 6, and Fletcher Blum, 3, said she was brought to tears during the reading about Ruby Bridges, the first African American girl at age 6 to integrate into an elementary school in the south in 1960. Her daughter related to Ruby because she's the same age, said Adams.

"As part of our home schooling, we're also doing a Black History Month study and reading a number of different stories related to it," said Adams. "This was a really nice way to relate to the study. The books are incredibly moving."

Adams said she and her children will definitely be joining in again on Wednesday.

Pattie Arduini, the SVES president said the SEEK program is an environment for youth to explore topics that foster empathy, thoughtfulness and a deeper understanding of self and others.

"The goal of SEEK is to provide a safe space where children can identify their own values, expand their knowledge and gain skills essential to developing and following their own moral compass and voice," she said.

SVES is also planning to reintroduce the ethics education program to children in grades kindergarten through fifth grade in September at the Donald L. Heiter Community Center in Lewisburg.

"At its core, we are teaching children to care, about ethics, about caring for community, others and the earth," said Almstead. "We're teaching compassion for all beings, a sense of fairness and justice for all, citizenship and community service and altruism. It's not a fixed set of beliefs, but it's a learning environment where children are encouraged to think for themselves, to think critically and think ethically." 

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