Artwork: Bachanten I by Anita van Kempen
Four decades ago, a woman stood alone in her kitchen, teaching her sons and their friends the thrill of reading, of learning. On June 29, 1996, she stood in front of a beautiful new building in Watts, California, which was named after her: The Alma Reaves Woods Library.
"She took the time and tried to show us how we can take books, how we can read, how we can learn," recalled Calvin Divinity of Compton, fiscal officer of the Los Angeles Unified School District, "Even today, she does the same thing with my kids when I take them to her house. Any child who was willing to learn and was open to have her teach them, she would do it."
The path from her kitchen to the ribbon cutting at the doors to the public library was long and arduous. She began with her own lending library, books purchased second hand at thrift stores. Although she had to abandon her dream of a Phd. in biology, she never abandoned the children, keeping soup on the stove for those who needed food in their belly along with food for thought.
"I stayed in Nickerson 35 1/2 years. I really didn't have to stay there as long as I did, but I became so involved with the children I couldn't leave." Woods stated to the Los Angeles Times.
While she encouraged the children of Nickerson Gardens to visit the old Watts Library , she lobbied the city administrators for a book mobile to serve the housing projects. When that was achieved, she set her goals higher, spending the next four decades lobbying for a neighborhood library large enough to serve the community she loved. The old library was just too small. Her efforts are now complete, at the age of 71.
The new, $3 million library contains a computerized virtual library, reading niches, community meeting rooms, homework center, a language lab and private tutoring rooms, in addition to its 45,000 books.
However, the story doesn't end there. The community wanted the new facility named after this extraordinary Arkansas native. City policy, only one year old, prevented this. City policy required a donation of $1 million to have see her name on the plaque. The community besieged City Hall, storming its corridors, overloading it telephone lines until the City Council and the Mayor relented. Faced with the overwhelming support for this dedicated woman, City Hall agreed forty years of service more than equals a $1 million dollar donation.
"Alma Woods is not a rich woman, probably never will be, but she has donated more in her time and love to the community of Watts than any millionaire could ever donate. For a person who has enough to give a million dollars to the city to name a library after them, they're giving of their surplus. For someone who has given 40 years of hard work in order that Watts has a quality library, that's giving of love." Councilman Rudy Svorinich Jr. stated. Svorinich was one of Ms. Wood's supporter who led the charge on City Hall.
Woods, who feels that education is life, was presented with roses and, as emcee, led the ceremony which opened her library. Even so, her role isn't done. No longer confined to the kitchen table, Woods is still teaching her children, only the location is different.
Artwork Bachanten I by Anita van Kempen
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