British actor and screenwriter, Lennie James, who has starred in hit TV shows and films including The Walking Dead, Blade Runner 2049 and Snatch, is today (Wednesday 21st February) meeting with young people from Kingsford Community School to discuss the pivotal role reading had to play in his journey from a South London children’s home to Hollywood.
The event, taking place at Marylebone Library in London, forms part of a UK-wide campaign from award-winning education charity, Achievement for All, which will see 300,000 children and young people in schools, homes, early years settings and libraries read for 100 million minutes from World Book Day (Thursday 1st March).
In line with the charity’s work to raise outcomes for all children and young people who are vulnerable to underachievement, the 100 Million Minutes Reading Challenge seeks to build brighter futures by inspiring young people to read more regularly and highlighting the worlds and possibilities that literacy can unlock.
Touching on the impact reading had on his life, Lennie, who was taken into foster care at a young age, said: “I am an actor and a writer, which is about a million miles away from what I thought I’d be when I was growing up. Reading, in large part, made it all possible.
“Reading opened my mind to the possibilities beyond what was expected of someone who looked like me and was from where I was from. Reading plays, books and scripts set me to dreaming and made me brave enough to try to live out my dreams.”
Kier, aged 14, Head Boy at Kingsford Community School, said: “On behalf of Kingsford it is an honour to meet someone who has such a successful career. We admire Lennie’s success in The Walking Dead (in particular!) and other A list films. We are really excited to talk with someone who has achieved so much internationally and has grown up in the same city as us. Through reading, writing and performing we’re able to imagine and create the path to our own futures. We are sure that after our time with Lennie we’ll come away with a new found inspiration and enthusiasm to read.”
New research released this week from The National Literacy Trust reveals that children born into communities with the most serious literacy challenges – who are more likely to live in deprived areas, do worse at school, be less financially well-off and have poorer health – have some of the lowest life expectancies in England.
Figures from the Fair Education Alliance, also reveal that up to three in five children from socio-economic disadvantage leave primary school without achieving the expected standard of reading, with the effect on their self-confidence and job opportunities long-lasting.
Professor Sonia Blandford, CEO at Achievement for All, said: "Literacy levels are one of the greatest drivers of social inequality in the UK today. It is unacceptable that in today’s society too many children and young people feel their dreams are limited or their potential is being thwarted because of their background or circumstances. We must work to build brighter futures for all children and young people and the evidence shows that reading regularly, in whatever form that takes, and visiting libraries, can have a huge impact on life chances.
“Lennie is a fantastic, much-needed role model - he highlights what life-changing doors can be opened through reading, dreaming big and believing in your ability to achieve no matter who you are or where you come from. I urge everyone to think about how they can support the young people in their local communities to become lifetime readers, achieve and lead happy lives.”
Speaking about the opportunity for pupils to meet with Lennie James, Dame Joan Deslandes OBE, headteacher at Kingsford Community School – an innovative, diverse and unified co-educational secondary school in the heart of Beckton, East London, said: “I am thrilled that our pupils have had the opportunity to meet such a positive role model as Lennie. The importance of reading cannot be understated and I am delighted that the 100 Million Minutes Reading Challenge has such an enthusiastic champion.
“Many of our pupils come from disadvantaged backgrounds and difficult circumstances. Consequently they go through extraordinary struggles to achieve. It is therefore truly inspiring for them to be able to meet someone who, similarly, has had to overcome challenges and has achieved so much. People like Lennie show our pupils how through reading new worlds can be discovered and that no barriers are insurmountable. The time my pupils have spent with Lennie have taught them a lesson for life about the authority of reading. He is genuinely an authentic role model.”
Councillor David Harvey, Cabinet Member for Environment, Sports and Community at Westminster City Council, said: “Literacy and a love of reading is a gateway to not just a more successful career, but also to a richer and fuller life. Westminster City Council understands the essential role libraries play in making books available to children and young adults from all backgrounds, and we have protected libraries across the borough to make sure everyone can benefit from them. I’m proud to give my support to the 100 Million Minutes Reading Challenge and hope children everywhere will get involved.”
Lennie joins a host of stars, authors, sports teams and organisations who are joining forces to close the book on social inequality and support the Achievement for All initiative, including lead partner, Book People, International supermodel and Achievement for All Ambassador, David Gandy, former Children’s Laureate Anne Fine, West Ham United FC, Brighton and Hove Albion FC, as well as charities, publishers, teaching unions and library associations.
The event with Lennie James is just one of the many activities taking place across the country as part of the month-long campaign to engage children, young people and families with reading.
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For further information on the campaign, visit www.100millionminutes.org.