Students and volunteers participate in Sistas in Business' Read & Lead program. Courtesy photo.

If a picture is worth thousand words then reading is worth ten times more. About seven years ago, I founded an organization of business women called Sistas in Business that believes in the power of literacy and giving back to the community.

We help increase the literacy rate in San Antonio through our program Read & Lead. Once a month we take elementary school students to multiple venues around San Antonio to expose them to destination spots outside of their communities and give them an opportunity to showcase their reading skills. The kids love the program because reading to others literally gives them a voice. They enjoy being the center of attention, so they are always prepared with a book in hand and selected stories that they read to adults or their peers.

Our motto is, “If you can read…you can lead.”

Students and volunteers participate in Sistas in Business' Read & Lead program. Courtesy photo.
Students and volunteers participate in Sistas in Business’ Read & Lead program. Courtesy photo.

So far, the students have travelled to nursing homes to read to senior citizens, the Fischer House to read to wounded soldiers, Seton Home to read to pregnant and teen moms, McDonalds to read to customers, the Literacy Coalition at the San Antonio Public Library, the Witte Museum to read to guests, the YMCA of Greater San Antonio, H-E-B, and the Texas Book Festival. Students have also volunteered for Literacy San Antonio and SAREADS book banks to help them label books.

Over the years we have collected countless photos of students reading and decided to set up a photo exhibit of the best at the Carver Community Cultural Center entitled “Inner City Expressions.” The exhibit opened Dec. 4 and will run through Jan. 8. With only a couple more days left, we hope more people will stop by and peruse the more than 60 photos of children from SAISD reading throughout the city. The photos have been blown up to 16 inches by 20 inches and mounted on acrylic.

After the exhibit is over on Thursday, Sistas in Business will donate the photos to various elementary school libraries in SAISD.

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Read & Lead is currently partners with four schools in SAISD: Cameron Elementary School, Bowden Elementary School, Davis Middle School and King Academy. Sistas in Business partnered with an educators sorority, the National Sorority of Phi Delta Kappa, and they conduct the program in three of the schools.

Students that participate typically start when they are three years old in pre-k, so by the time they finish elementary school, they will have been exposed to the program for eight years all the way up to 5th grade.

Over the holidays, we received a call from a parent whose children attended Cameron Elementary School. She is now a teacher at a school in East Central ISD. She remembered her kids participating in the program and asked if we were interested in expanding the program into a magnet school in ECISD.

We’ve received great feedback from the students themselves, too. They constantly ask their teachers and parents when their next Read & Lead trip will be. We have many teachers and parents that volunteer on Saturdays to go out with us on our Read & Lead field trips.

Teachers tell us that students’ reading, classroom behavior, and general conduct have improved while their love for reading has gone through the roof.

The program is changing inner city kids’ image in the community. While interacting with adults and their peers, students build their self-esteem and confidence which helps the improve their speaking skills.

The Read & Lead program and Sistas in Business partners with SA2020, SAREADS, National Sorority of Phi Delta Kappa, H-E-B, Comerica Bank, the City’s Department for Creative and Cultural Development, and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity.

People are always amazed at how well they read and how well behaved the students are. These students are on a mission. They show up ready to read and ready to impress their listener. They are eager to read and are disappointed if they don’t get a chance.

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Laura Thompson founded Sistas in Business in August 2005. Thompson is a small business owner who had a vision to change the perception and opportunities for African American women business owners in San...