Honoring Dr. King through Service and Literacy

By Damon Bethea, Manager, Building for Success in School and Life, DEI Lead, United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania


Like so many beloved changemakers, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. believed that kindness and a strong education are the foundation of a fair and equitable society. By expanding our knowledge, we can gain a better understanding of the world and people around us. Because of his own love of literacy, his commitment to education and his vision for the future, Dr. King was able to communicate in a way that broke down barriers. When he spoke, people heard and understood his message.

Dr. King was committed to equity and breaking down barriers that keep all children from reaching their potential. When children fall behind in reading, it impacts their ability to succeed in school, improve their futures and become contributing community members. Research shows that children who are read to at least three times a week routinely hit their language goals and are almost twice as likely to score in the top 25% in reading compared to children who are read to less frequently. However, children from low-income families have, on average, only half the number of books in their homes compared to their higher-income peers.

When parents and caregivers are struggling to make ends meet, you can easily see how they make the decision to provide a warm meal or pay the utilities before purchasing books. That’s why United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania is honoring Dr. King and supporting early childhood literacy across the region by hosting our Book Drive for Diversity 2023.

From today through March 31, you can help United Way contribute new books from a specially curated list of titles that focus on diversity including ethnicity, class, gender, physical abilities, race and work statuses. With help from the University of Pittsburgh’s Office of Child Development, these books were chosen to help young learners strengthen their reading skills while also giving them the opportunity to read stories featuring characters who look like them or live similar lives. The themes also open the door for parents to start talking with their kids about accepting people who may seem different and help them to see those differences as the things that make each of us unique.

To help inspire the hearts and minds of a new generation all you have to do is sign up to receive the link to purchase the preselected titles. The books will be sent directly to United Way’s offices to be distributed to schools, agency partners and early learning centers across Allegheny, Armstrong, Butler, Fayette and Westmoreland counties.

If you’re interested in a deeper commitment, United Way convenes the Western PA Early Literacy Team that advocates for early literacy, discusses community challenges and presents networking opportunities. Send me an email at Damon.Bethea@unitedwayswpa.org to learn more.

The Book Drive for Diversity is only one example of United Way’s commitment to early childhood literacy and helping our neighbors build success in school and life. Across the board, we share a commitment to the most vulnerable among us to make sure that they have access to the resources, programs and information they need to thrive. Learn more about our efforts at UWSWPA.org.

So, will you join us to celebrate Dr. King and inspire a love of reading in local kids? Sign up today at bit.ly/DiversityBookDrive.