A story of triumph in a book
Brittani Bunney didn’t grow up in Hudson County. But after being here more than a decade, she has come to understand what it means to realize her dreams.
A native of Spearfish, S.D., Bunney attended Hudson County Community College, then Montclair University, before working as a manager for Leasing and Communications for Silverman, a prominent local developer in Jersey City.
“Those who have should always give back to the community,” she said about the city-wide book club she calls JC Reads.
Now, she is helping the school district popularize a program in which kids and adults across Jersey City will read the same book – “The Pact,” about three Newark kids who made a promise to finish school and become doctors – and then meet with the authors in a series of events next year.
How she helped
The 28 year-old said she got inspired to help kids with reading when she became principal for a day at School 22. She later hosted a 2014 book drive to get kids to read for the summer.
“I’m passionate about education and literacy,” she said about her hope to make an impact in the community. She called reading and writing “tools” for the future.
“Literacy is the most important educational tool we have,” she said. “If you can’t read and write, you really can’t do anything. But with those tools, I think you can attain anything.”
“I’m fortunate to have met a lot of people through my job, and to use my communication skills to help others.” – Brittani Bunney
“If I can make my dream come true, then anybody can make their dream come true,” she said.
Started in the school district in 2014
The JC Reads program was started in the Jersey City School District in 2014, said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Marcia Lyles.
“The idea came from (former school trustee) Ellen Simon,” Lyles said. “Although ‘One book One City’ has been done across the country in different cities, she thought ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had a book that the entire city read, to build community, to learn from, to talk about?’ So last year, we selected ‘The Pact’ because we thought it was very relevant to our story.”
She said many people in Jersey City were already familiar with the story about the three young men who made a pact to finish high school and college and become doctors.
But Lyles said the district’s effort didn’t go far enough to get the attention of the public at large.
“We felt so strongly about the power of this story, and about what it meant as a whole community comes together to educate children. She (Simon) turned to Bunney – I like to call her ‘The Energizer Bunny’ – and Brittani said ‘Yes, let’s do this. Let’s put this book in more people’s hands, not just our students and parents. Let’s get the word about this out, how we’re learning from this and sharing.’ ”
Bunney said the district approached her about six months ago. The schools were looking for a community partner to be involved.
“They asked me if I wanted to do it, and I told them of course I want to do it,” she said.
She said her bosses at Silverman were extremely supportive and pro-literacy. She said Paul and Eric Silverman spent a lot of time giving back to the community, and education is something they feel strongly about.
b>A series of events planned
After reading the book, she contacted the authors about a possible visit to Jersey City.
Bunney said she will bring the authors to Hudson County in April 2016, but meanwhile she wanted to give students a chance to read the book. She said there will be a number of other events between now and their appearance.
“I don’t know location or exact date yet,” she said. “There will be activities around the book.
As they start to read the book, especially little kids, events will be developed around the book’s themes. They [the school district] picked this book because it is about seeing your dreams come true and something that relates to inner city kids.”
Bunney said she got a number of books for free and began distributing them to friends, educators, even the mayor and members of the City Council. Bunney has a series of events planned leading up to a Jersey City visit by the authors next April.
“I wanted to give everybody time to read the book,” she said.
All Jersey City eighth graders were given a copy of the book at the end of the school year and were required to read it as part of their summer reading series.
“I know the doctors [the authors] also have some scholarship opportunities as an incentive to read,” Bunney said. “I want this to be something that is creating conversations, but also promoting literacy. I don’t want it to be one neighborhood that’s doing it. I want the whole city reading it.”
Kids in lower grades will get to read a version of the book geared towards younger readers.
To promote this, she reached out to JC Families and other neighborhood groups hoping to get them to host an event. Some of the questions that might be raised for discussion are: What is a pact? What does it mean to make a pact?
“Anything we can do to create a conversation is good,” Bunney said. “Why is it important to get an education? What you can achieve through getting an education?”
Using her skills to help develop the program
As she promotes the book, she relies on her skills as a professional.
“I’m fortunate to have met a lot of people through my job, and to use my communication skills to help others,” she said. She said she is reaching out to charter schools, community groups, and anyone else that she thinks might help the program. At some point, the City Council will be hosting an event as well, she said.
“The more people who read the book, the more successful this is,” she said. “Church and youth groups will be hosting events, and this will be all over the city.”
There will even be a screening of a documentary about the doctors in Van Vorst Park. She envisions kids doing art projects related to the book as well as the school district using curriculum designed by the Three Doctors Foundation.
Bunney is also seeking sponsors to help cover the costs associated with the program, which will include speaker’s fees for next April’s event.
“These doctors are people everybody can look up to, and I think it will be great to speak to our youth or anybody who reads the book,” she said. “These kids (the doctors) faced real challenges. They were inner city kids in Newark. They didn’t have good relationships with their fathers. Some of them lived in public housing. They lived in a community filled with violence and drugs. They overcame adversity, a huge challenge for inner city kids, and to have made a pact at a young age and to have actually fulfilled it, to be giving back, it’s really remarkable. Some people make their dreams come true, and then they give back. That’s what I like most about these three doctors, that they are continuing their dream and inspiring others. I think everybody has an obligation to give back in some way. It can be big or small, whatever. This is why I am giving back. I’m lucky to have the life I have and I won’t forget it ever. If I can inspire one kid, I will be returning the favor.”
The book is available at Word, a bookstore at 123 Newark Ave, or the NJCU bookstore. The younger version is called “We Beat the Street: How a Friendship Led to Success.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at [email protected].
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