Wake Forest hosts MLK Day read-in

The event was held on Wake Forest’s campus for the first time since 2019


Daniel Parolini

Piedmont Environmental Alliance Education Coordinator Christopher Perdomo watches as an elementary student powers light bulbs by riding a bike.

Daniel Parolini, News Editor

Moments before the celebration ended, elementary school students received books at this year’s MLK Read-In event on Jan. 21. But after a morning full of learning and bonding with college students, they went home with something more.

Each elementary school student, or “little,” was paired with a “big” from Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem State University or UNC School of the Arts. Together in Benson 401, they read about Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, wrote about their future dreams, learned about advocacy and sustainability — and talked about what it’s like to be a college student.

“What you learned today from your bigs — what you learned today from your stations — go back and talk to mom and dad about it,” said Chelii Broussard, assistant director of University Student Activities & Engagement at Winston-Salem State University. “Your dreams are going to create a future that is going to help other people. So know that what you are dreaming about right now is going to make a big difference and an impact in the community.”

The 14th annual Read-In brought K-5 students from Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools back to Wake Forest’s campus for the first time in four years. The event was facilitated by HandsOn NWNC and the Office of Civic and Community Engagement to ignite curiosity through togetherness and community, according to Shivani Patel, the AmeriCorps VISTA member for HandsOn NWNC.

“They are so creative, so smart and they have so many questions,” Patel said. “I think that was the best part about having them paired with bigs — they could just talk about everything and anything.” 

At the sustainability station, littles attempted to power light bulbs by pedaling a bike. The activity aimed to teach students about energy saving and efficiency and “leveling the playing field” of sustainability education. Some schools with less parent involvement often need an extra hand, according to AmeriCorps VISTA Member and Piedmont Environmental Alliance Education Coordinator Christopher Perdomo.

“We like to think that what we’re doing is really big on environmental justice,” Perdomo said.

Students at another station wrote their goals, such as “be you and be great” and “lead by example” on vision boards. At the advocacy station, they drew pictures of the issues that mattered to them.

Yet as much as the students learned from each station, they found ways to make an impression of their own. Some students talked about unplugging their iPad when not in use to save energy, while others brought up homelessness as an issue at the advocacy table. 

“They were really into it. They actually took it away,” Patel said as she described student conversations she overheard.

Patel continued: “Compared to when I was a kid…they are so much more socially aware. I think this really helped expand on that.”

Students also made an impression through the goals and dreams they set for themselves, such as one girl’s dream to become a firefighter — or another girl’s dream to become an engineer.

“The things they thought were possible, the things they assumed for themselves — I was surprised to hear that, and that made me happy,” junior Claire Hopkins said. “That made me excited to think that there are changes about what people think they can be, like hearing little girls say STEM.” 

Hopkins and her fellow big Jasmin Johnson, a graduate student in the Wake Forest School of Medicine, were surprised by their own little’s response of wanting to be an esthetician 

As a sixth-grader, their little, Nyla, wasn’t so little, according to Hopkins. She had a slightly different experience from her younger peers.

“For us it was more an opportunity to connect and to discuss that education is really life experiences and conversations with other people,” Hopkins said.

“She asked questions about college, so we encouraged that for her future, as well as doing things she puts her mind to,” Johnson said.

To finish the morning, students learned how to play musical instruments in a musical petting zoo led by the UNCSA Marching band. Littles joined their bigs on the dance floor and gathered to read aloud from the “Dream Clouds” in which they drew their dream jobs.

“It’s really cool to see college students impact the future generations,” Wake Forest’s Assistant Director of Community Partnerships Amanda Alston said. “And the impact of MLK’s legacy — seeing the service that’s taking place — how this was his dream, and it’s being brought to fruition. I think that’s what Wake Forest is about.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story and sub-headline misstated how long it had been since the read-in event was last held on Wake Forest’s campus. That year was 2019.