Atlanta First-Grader Launches Literacy Nonprofit

Selah Thompson co-founded a non-profit organization to help improve literacy in Atlanta.

Courtesy of The Thompson Family

As people around the country honor the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., one Atlantan will do so by launching a nonprofit organization focused on improving literacy.

A Big Problem

Seven-year-old Selah Thompson is in first grade at Atlanta’s Parkside Elementary School. She loves school and reading. She’s starting a nonprofit called The Empowered Readers Literacy Project with the help of her parents. Selah’s mother, Nicole Thompson, said the idea came about after Selah came home from her first day of Kindergarten last year looking sad.

“We asked her what was bothering her, and she told us that she realized that a lot of her friends did not know their alphabet, couldn’t write their names, basic things that she knew how to do from Pre-K,” Thompson said.

Her parents explained that families don’t always have the same opportunities. They told her some neighborhoods don’t have libraries or book stores.

“She accepted our answer, but she wasn’t pleased with it. So, she asked us to help her fix it,” she said.

The family decided to start a book drive. But after talking with teachers at the school, Thompson realized literacy was a deeper problem in the school district.

“It wasn’t just a matter of a few children not knowing how to write their names in first grade, but it was an epidemic such that 68 percent of our children were not proficient readers by the end of third grade,” Thompson said.

So, the family shifted gears and put their energy into creating a literacy nonprofit instead. The idea is to improve literacy by expanding access to books.

A Simple Plan

Selah said it’s based on a simple idea.

“Every kid deserves to read,” she said.

The first step the group will take toward doing that is building 24 Little Free Libraries in different Atlanta neighborhoods. Those are the freestanding wooden boxes with books in them. Neighbors can give a book or take one.

Selah’s teacher, Jennifer Fassinger, said she’s an avid reader.

“She’s definitely an example for her classmates,” Fassinger said. “[She’s] instilling what reading should look like.”

Fassinger said her students could benefit from a Little Free Library.

“Being a teacher, I see how much work I put in here at the school helping them, but there’s no help at home,” she said. “So, kids are still struggling and they’re not as literate as they should be.”

Selah has also written a book called “Penelope the Pirate Princess.” Fassinger said that’s caused some of the other students to look up to Selah.

“A few kids have sparked their creativity by writing their own little books at home,” Fassinger said. “If we bring up her book, they’ll say, ‘Oh yeah, I started my book too.’”

Selah and her family kicked everything off with a literacy march over the weekend in Grant Park.


A note of disclosure: Parkside Elementary school is part of the Atlanta Public Schools. The Atlanta Board of Education holds WABE’s broadcast license.