Youth make their voices heard at Richmond Literacy Festival

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Youth make their voices heard at Richmond Literacy Festival
Photos courtesy of The Practice Space.

By Kathy Chouteau

Reading and writing was at the center of the 2024 Annual Literacy Festival at the Richmond Memorial Auditorium on Saturday, but a group keynote speech by The Practice Space enabled local youth to also exhibit the power of expression.

Emmanuel, a 4th grader, spoke to festival attendees about the importance of fairness and how The Practice Space, a Richmond-based nonprofit that trains youth in public speaking, taught him to share his ideas.

“I like to speak up about keeping things fair,” he said, noting that when he thinks about fairness, he thinks about justice.

Another student, 6th grader Salomé, shared how she has emerged from a shy child to a confident speaker, and how improv, speeches and skits were fun ways to help her progress to the point of giving speeches to an audience of 500 people.

Fellow 6th grader Isabella read her poem “The Freedom to Thrive” and emphasized that public speaking has empowered her to share her ideas.

“It’s almost like every time I share an idea, I am planting a seed, and over time that seed blooms and grows,” said Isabella.

High school student Kai said speech and debate helped him find his voice. Another high school student, Laura, shared similar sentiments through the lens of girls and women sharing their voices. She’s also learned to be a good debater through the program.

The Practice Space group also used its platform at the Literacy Festival to tout Richmond as a city “made of creativity,” rich in culture, inspiration and kindness, a “place to feel brave” and to find your voice.

“We need places where we can learn how to tell our stories and share our opinions and listen to people,” said AnneMarie Baines, founder and executive director of The Practice Space, adding that it’s important to have a place to practice those skills in today’s environment.

The Literacy Festival also featured book giveaways, library updates, author talks, free food, entertainment and a “Local Author/Illustrator Panel” moderated by Tamara Shiloh.

Learn more about The Practice Space here.