By: Shauna-Kay Cassell
Our passions seem to take us on a journey that cannot be quelled, not until they are accomplished. Ja’nice Wisdom, a second generation Jamaican whose mother’s lineage comes from Siloah, St. Elizabeth, knows this too well. Wisdom’s late maternal grandmother, Adella Rowe-Tomlinson was responsible for waking up the passion within her own heart. “Because both of my grandparents left a legacy behind, I wanted to walk in their footsteps” Wisdom admits. That’s when the search for ways to impact lives through community service led her to start the Read Across Jamaica Foundation.
Wisdom graduated with her Bachelor’s in Business Management at the University of Maryland University College (UMUC), with a focus in Information Systems. “As I was pursuing my degree, I was working fulltime at the National Education Association (NEA) with the Read Across America program” says Wisdom, “all, while raising two teenagers on my own.” Yet, somehow in the midst of all these responsibilities, “I wanted to create an international component for Read Across America in the land of my heritage” she continues. Consequently, the successful entrepreneur first introduced the literacy initiative concept to the Jamaica Teachers Association in 2003, and a year later her project was underway. “I invited a couple of my friends to join me in introducing our favorite childhood story books at Siloah Primary School” Wisdom highlights. “The kids really enjoyed the stories we were sharing…it was like an exchange of culture between reading about Dr. Seuss and Ananci books.” Currently, the foundation is made up of volunteers in different professions, and receives a grant from Maryland State Education Association (MSEA), used to cover travel expenses for a student teacher to engage in a cultural exchange outside of the U.S.
By 2006, Read Across Jamaica (RAJ) was registered as a non-profit organization in the U.S, with Doctor Julius Garvey, the youngest son of The Right Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey, as a founding board member and adviser. “Initially we were collecting new and used books to help communities that were affected by hurricane disaster, and providing resources to teachers to resume a normal school day” says the founder and CEO. Now the mission of the organization has expanded to helping Jamaican students develop a lifelong love of reading. Wisdom and her team facilitates mission trips to Jamaica twice per year; in May and November, to assist educational programs and institutions. In its 10 years of inception, “the organization has served over 25,000 students and provided over 50,000 books and supplies to children” Wisdom affirms.
Now, the ambitious 51-year old continues her journey. She intends to build capacity by attracting more sponsors and volunteers this year as she launches an international virtual book club for junior high school students, in collaboration with the Jamaica Diaspora Education Taskforce. “The book club will provide an opportunity to explore different cultural perspectives through literature, while our annual bus tour will utilize authors as literary ambassadors” Wisdom includes. The proud entrepreneur has also decided to continue her own education. She is currently pursuing her Masters in Early Childhood Education at UMUC.
Long after the death of her grandparents, Wisdom’s passion for making a difference in children’s lives has expanded their legacy; not just in the Siloah Community but her influence is being felt across the island. As it is, the passion that lies within all of us is never really quelled. Instead it guides us to make a world of a difference in our communities, societies and our nations, if we only submit to it.
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