May 28, 2015 admin

PURPOSE: Giving Others My Chances

by Joy Sakai

Age 63. CA

When I was not quite 8 years old, I developed a debilitating chronic illness and was ordered to bed, where I spent the next 18 months. This was around the time when most American homes might have had a black and white television.  My father believed television could only slow a developing mind, so instead I was given books and records while bed-bound.

First there were Golden Books and Records, then novels and LP records that introduced classical music, and finally, I moved up to Tom Sawyer and The Swiss Family Robinson.  In spite of a relative lack of formal teaching, I returned to school a grade ahead of my age group.  Going back wasn’t fun – I was immature, socially inept, and walked with a pronounced limp, so I was a pretty easy target.  But fortunately, the towns and schools on the central coast of California had beautiful, well-stocked libraries.

My parents’ practices assured the beginnings of a life of the mind in me, and that life continued to flourish at home and in the public library.  We could ride there on bikes, and did so, often.  I can still conjure up the sound of the librarian’s high heels on the linoleum floor.  The smell of ink and furniture wax stills calls up visions of long stretches of walnut tables littered with books.  Our library was my refuge.

Fast-forward 30 years or so to the Central Valley of California, legitimately referred to as the breadbasket of the nation. This was where our young family landed, not long before our daughter was to begin kindergarten.  We visited her new school in advance, and found a wonderful group of teachers with very limited resources, and no library.

The school drew from middle to lower income families.  The lower income children often had parents that were unemployed or were seasonal farm laborers. 


Children from these families routinely started school without ever having a book of their own.  At that time, our county had the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the nation.  Children were raising children, a combination that does not bode well for the younger generation.  Had these children been afforded the same start that was given to me, their lives would be rolling down a much different track.  This was my calling.

So, a group of like-minded friends and I cofounded an organization that encourages parents to read and speak to their children.  We raise money to buy new books for kids age 0-5 from around the county.  After 25 years, what I still find difficult to grapple with is the lack of understanding between socio-economic groups in this country.  On more than one occasion adults have expressed the idea that buying books is a waste, because kids can just read on a tablet or computer.  This sounds like the modern equivalent of saying  “No bread? Let them eat cake.”  These children don’t have Internet.  They don’t even have socks.   These are American children.   Maybe their parents made poor decisions along the way, but maybe not.   Are we still letting children bear the sins of their parents?

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