LifestyleSylvia Ruth Foundation: Advancing literacy and education

Sylvia Ruth Foundation: Advancing literacy and education

While most people consider learning to read fundamental, the board of the Sylvia Ruth Foundation recognizes reading and books as life-changing.

Stephanie Byrd (front center) with board members of the Sylvia Ruth Foundation at the organization’s Sneaker Ball on March 23 at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Southeast D.C. (Micha Green/The Washington Informer)
“We are a collective of women who have come together to honor Sylvia Ruth [Byrd], who is my mother, and carry out her dreams and her wishes and continue her service. She was a dedicated servant, who helped children,” said founding board member Stephanie Byrd, who is also a principal at Payne Elementary in Southeast D.C. “What we do is build classroom libraries in first grade classrooms. Thus far, in the first three years of our existence, we have built six classroom libraries in first grade classrooms.” 

For the second year in a row, the foundation, dedicated to promoting literacy and providing scholarship funds for students, raised money to continue its mission with a gala and auction.  

As the foundation’s namesake was born on March 19, 1940, the annual event is intentionally held around her birthday, celebrating her life and legacy.

This year’s soiree, a sneaker ball, was held on March 23 at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Southeast D.C. and brought out guests donning dapper suits, glamorous gowns, and extravagant ensembles paired with stylish sneakers of all brands, shapes and colors.

“I’m looking at all these sneakers, seeing if I can get some tips that I can wear to the next sneaker ball,” said Salim Adofo, chair of Ward 8C Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC), who represents District 8C07.

In addition to the captivating footwear, Adofo emphasized the true focus of the event: education.

“Education, I believe, is the key to moving our community forward,” explained Adofo, who is running for the Ward 8 Council seat in the Democratic primary on June 4.  

A Legacy That Continues Through Books and Scholarships 

Board member Marion McDowell, a teacher at Payne, told the crowd she remembers how amazing it was to witness the late literacy advocate in action and working with students.

“I came across Sylia Byrd in the cafeteria.  She had a group of children that she was reading to and I would see her every so often until one day I said, ‘You’re reading to the kids, that’s cool,’” McDowell recalled during the event. “Every holiday she would pack a sack with books in it and hand them out to first graders. So I asked her one day, ‘Well where’s mine?’ And she said, ‘Trust me. I’ll have yours next time.’ And every holiday she would leave something for me, [even] if she didn’t see me personally.”

McDowell described the late mother and grandmother, who died in April 2021 at the age of 81, as a fervent supporter of children who empowered them with the gift of books and reading.

“She loved our babies hard. She enjoyed reading and I’m here to make sure her name is living in scholarships and in books,” McDowell said.

The Sylvia Ruth Foundation is doing more than providing books. Through literature, the foundation offers a world of opportunities for young people to explore, learn and grow.

“As students come to school, if they don’t have a lot of books and examples of reading in their home, they have a library in their actual classrooms that they can enjoy and learn a lot,” explained Byrd, a mom and educator, carrying out her own mother’s legacy.

However, the work doesn’t stop at books and building libraries.  

“We also give scholarships to students at Howard University,” said Byrd, whose mother worked at the prestigious historically Black university for many years.

Moreover, the foundation is creating a college pathway for children, some of whom haven’t even stepped into a formal classroom– or taken their first steps, for that matter. 

“We have started to open up college savings plans for young people. We opened up three college savings plans for infants, and we have done two first graders,” Byrd said.

With all that’s been accomplished in three years, the foundation is making plans to continue its namesake’s mission in a major way.

“Next year we hope to do a whole class of first graders,” Byrd declared. “That’s our mission moving forward.”

Source: Washington Informer

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