Read this summer.
That is the message Tennessee first lady Crissy Haslam and local police officers told hundreds of Chattanooga children Wednesday. It's also the message Haslam is taking to children across the state with her Read 20 Book Patrol.
Haslam is partnering with police officers across Tennessee to give children books and encourage them to read at least 20 minutes a day.
"Folks who are illiterate are more likely to become involved in crime," Haslam said.
Nationally, 70 percent of prison inmates are illiterate. And 85 percent of children involved in the juvenile justice system are functionally illiterate, statistics show.
But a child who develops strong reading skills is very unlikely to live in poverty as an adult, according to Hamilton County's read20.0rg website. Children can develop such skills by reading at least 20 minutes a day, according to the website.
Chattanooga Police Department officers will carry books in their patrol cars this summer and distribute them to children as long as supplies last.
"Reading is the key to education," Police Chief Fred Fletcher said. "It's the key to doing the things that we want to do in life."
Publisher Penguin Random House gave Haslam 5,300 books to take to Tennessee's cities and give to children. About 1,100 of those are designated for Chattanooga.
Haslam said many local children don't have many books in their homes, and it's hard for some kids to get to the public library in the summer. So if a child has books of his own, reading becomes more likely, she said.
Gerald Perry, manager of the Avondale Youth and Family Development Center, asked 8-year-old Manuel Tibbs to stand before Haslam and a crowd of supporters at the center. Then he told the group that Manuel read five books in three weeks.
Asked what he wanted to be when he gets older, Manuel responded: "I'm trying to be a whole lot: a basketball player, football player, a dentist and a doctor, and if I can do all of them I want to follow in my dad's footsteps."
He said his father is a salesman at T.J. Maxx and a preacher.
Avondale Neighborhood Association President James Moreland, Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth regional coordinator Rosalyn Leavell-Rice and local police officers were among community leaders gathered at the center to greet Haslam and encourage reading.
Hamilton County Schools teacher Tracy Davis read the book "You Read to Me and I'll Read to You" to about 40 children sitting on the floor and on mats at the center as Haslam walked into the gym.
"To see you reading, I love that," she said before introducing herself.
Haslam talked about the importance of reading and then gave a book to each child.
Fletcher emphasized the relationship between education and crime.
"The more successful we are at helping folks get education, the more successful we are at helping them get positive employment, helping them out of the cycle of arrest problems that plague our community," he said.
Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at 423-757-6431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.