It was “many moons ago” that Porter, chairman of The World Games 2022 and senior vice president of Customer Operations at Alabama Power, first set foot in J.S. Abrams, his old elementary and middle school. On May 5, he returned to read to third grade students for the Bessemer Reads initiative.
In a surprise twist for Porter, he was the honoree of a program lauding him for his leadership and contributions to The World Games.
With community leaders, Abrams students, and his mother and sisters in attendance, Porter received a framed commendation letter from Bessemer Mayor Kenneth Gulley, which was presented by Ed Fields, senior adviser and chief strategist under Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin. The honors continued as Kathy Boswell, executive vice president of Community and Volunteer Engagement at TWG 2022, gave Porter a limited-edition, award-winning poster by Helena student Cody Johnson.
Quoting the German philosopher Goethe, Porter said, “’If you treat a man as he is, he will remain as he is. If you treat him as he should be and as he could be, that he will be,’ so I want to thank Bessemer City Schools, J.S. Abrams Elementary School, for treating me as I should be. … I look forward to 30 years from now, having some of these young people lead the next international event coming to Birmingham.”
Later, Porter read to a third grade class. His message to youngsters at his old stomping grounds was vibrantly clear: “Reading and understanding the written word and learning is all-important.” The youngsters listened closely to Porter.
“We came out and read to several third and fourth grade classes, just encouraging them to read, the importance of reading, and how it can just open up many, many doors and expose them to places that they’ve never gone before,” Porter said.
“So, it’s just really encouraging the kids about the importance of reading and open their minds up and just traveling to difference places,” added Porter, who, with the highest scholastic average of the fifth grade class while attending Abrams, was valedictorian of the middle school. While Porter excelled in football at Tuskegee University, he told the 8- and 9-year-olds that a dreamed-about NFL or basketball career can be elusive.
“That’s why it’s important to prepare for your life and your future, and learn as much as you can,” he said.
Boswell said the Bessemer Reads program was created to promote the joy of reading and stories about countries that relate to The World Games.
“Bessemer is the home of our board chairman, Jonathan Porter, where he grew up and went to school, so today we went to really promote our educational program, and we chose to do it in the community where he was a student and graduated from school,” she said.
Thanks to the initiative, more than 1,600 students across five Bessemer elementary schools received a free book. About 50 volunteers from the Magic City Chapter of the Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO) joined others in reading at Abrams and four other Bessemer elementary schools:
Shenita Baker, 2021 Magic City APSO president, read to Henrietta Irby’s second grade class at Abrams Elementary.
“Reading should be at the forefront of learning,” said Baker, customer accounting analyst in Customer Service at Alabama Power Corporate Headquarters in Birmingham. “In the next two years, third graders will be required to read at grade level to move forward to the fourth grade. Our job is to help in different reading initiatives to ensure that our children advance.”
Each student received a copy of the book read in their class, a TWG 2022 reading sticker and TWG 2022 bookmarker.
Kindergarteners received “The Caring Me I Want To Be,” by Mary DiPalermo; first graders took home “A team stays together,” by Tony and Lauren Dungy; second graders received “Our Principal Is A Wolf” by Stephanie Calmenson; third graders received “18 Days Underground” by Joanne Mattern; four graders took home “I Survived: The Shark Attacks of 1916” by Lauren Tarshis; and fifth graders enjoyed “Wayside School Is Falling Down” by Louis Sachar.