By Nicole D. Miller

Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb

Jennifer Jumba, coordinator of The People’s University at The Cleveland Public Library, and Kelly Woodard, CPL, director of marketing, are two forces behind The Cleveland Reads Initiative. Although conceived by Mayor Justin Bibb, this endeavor has taken a village.

In December 2022, the Public Auditorium gathered 1500 residents to launch the Book Bash for the Cleveland Reads Initiative. This was the start of a 52-week reading challenge for the city to meet the quota of completing one million books, or one million minutes, in 2023. A whopping 60,000 books were given away by the American Federation of Teachers at this historical first-time occurrence. Additionally, attendees enjoyed a live DJ, a 360-spin photo booth, and several vendor hot-ticket items.

The initiative scaled to the heights of the mayor’s office before trickling down to the boots-on-the-ground teachers vivaciously participating in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District—and this participation is much needed. Sadly, per Case Western Reserve University’s Literacy Needs Assessment Report for Cuyahoga County, only 33% of the city reads over a third-grade reading level. “That means only one-third can adequately decipher a credit card bill and make out the nuances of a bus schedule,” says Jennifer Jumba. The stark reality is that citizens struggle daily to execute everyday required life skills.

Both Jennifer and Kelly share that Cleveland Reads is the first initiative of its kind, and depending on how it goes, it likely won’t be the last. Not only is the goal to boost literacy rates, but this initiative is a hands-on approach to empower residents to escape poverty and jail time, which are often the fate of those dealing with illiteracy. According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, two-thirds of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of the fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare, as cited by the Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation.

This city-wide undertaking is assisted by over 30 partners, including the RTA, Seeds of Literacy, Literary Cleveland, the Kid’s Book Bank, WKYC, and Chrishawndra Matthews of Literacy in the Hood. Each partner has a representative that participates in one of the following committees: marketing, outreach & engagement, programming, and financing. These representatives do their part by pumping their spheres with information to achieve the ultimate goal of success: one million books read.

Public Library Main Brach
Downtown Cleveland

A stellar marketing team, of course, plays a huge role in meeting this lofty objective. Kelly informs that this resounding message of literacy has been blasted on all platforms, ranging from social media, press releases, and TV commercials, to even wrapping itself around four RTA buses rolling along the city’s streets. Additionally, on April 12, there will be a “Ride and Read” extravaganza where bands, free books, and signups for Cleveland Reads will occur. A party for literacy empowerment will be in full effect at routes stationed at Windermere, West Park & Tower City rapid stations.

“The launch of this campaign is ubiquitous,” says Jennifer, as she alludes to CPL’s grassroots approach to using community advocates called Neighborhood Reading Ambassadors. These folks flood the corners and pockets of various PTA meetings, church gatherings, and community book clubs. It is truly a group effort, and all hands are on deck.

Joining in on advancing the city’s literacy rates is easy. Simply sign up, grab a book, and read. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be a good old-fashioned paperback. Comic books, graphic novels, newspapers, audiobooks and the like are all acceptable reading material in this challenge. Courses from the GED (general educational development) and ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) programs are also instrumental in this quest because the work students complete in classes qualify as valid pages read. Some incentives for joining the reading challenge are various prizes ranging from wireless earbuds to a family fun pack to Kalahari Water Park.

Once registered, make sure to mark your calendars for the midpoint event at Public Square on May 12 from 5-8 p.m. featuring New York Times Best-Selling Author Jerry Craft.

The culmination of the challenge will be celebrated on December 2nd at the Public Auditorium from 12-3 p.m. For more information or to sign up, go to or any Cleveland Public Library branch.

Additional Source:  Cleveland Magazine, One Million Books:  Cleveland Aims to Boost Literacy Rates with Reading Challenge