Founder’s Focus: Real Men Read December 2007

I spent the better part of my morning at Nathan Davis Middle School on Chicago’s southwest side reading to a group of feisty seventh grade students. I am a volunteer in our city’s Real Men Read program.

Real Men Read is a Chicago Public Schools (CPS) program that brings men into our schools to read to students for one hour each month. The essence of the Real Men Read Program is to show students who real men are, that real men do in fact read and that real men value education.

Men of all walks of life can be MENtors. Doctors, janitors, bankers, firemen, educators and postmen are all readers.

Our reading selection was from Sharon G. Flake’s novel, The Skin I’m In. Thirteen-year-old Maleeka, uncomfortable because her skin is extremely dark, meets a new teacher with a birthmark on her face and makes some discoveries about how to love who she is and what she looks like.

The purpose of my visit is to promote reading and foster a desire to read more frequently, but this story is really used to show the positive effects of developing healthy self-esteem and a healthy self-image.

I was taken by surprise at how topical and real the book’s content is. There are discussions about sex, drugs, and general issues that confront so many pre-teens. Seventh grade is such an awkward age–a coming-of-age. Having an outlet to discuss some of the issues that the students face is great. The book really opens these topics up for discussion.

Week 1 with classroom 308 from Davis Middle School was an adventure. We didn’t dig as deep into the issues as I would have liked, but it takes time for us to get to know one another. I am confident that with a few more meetings we will be able to converse more freely and really get into the meat of the message that The Skin I’m In is trying to convey.

All-in-all, it was a positive experience. I enjoyed the energy of the class. Seventh graders keep you on your toes. If I can be successful with that group, there will not be any business meetings that I cannot handle!

Have a safe and joyous new year with your family and friends!

Michael Ockrim – Founder, Chicago School Supply

For more information on CPS Real Men Read, please call (773) 553-BOOK (2665) or contact the Program Manager, Nichole Matthews, directly at (773) 553-1592 or via email at

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