Tuesday, July 23, 2013

SNAP, Libraries and the Need to Read by Marcus K. Dowling

We break from the beach this week to talk about the importance of libraries, especially in the lives of children.  Marcus K. Dowling shares his personal story of the ways in which books transported him to another place.  He also introduces Mission Read to a Microgreens--an organization dedicated to teaching kids how to make healthy eating choices on a SNAP budget.

I grew up an overly literate child because I had no other choice.  I grew up as a child with a knowledge of what it was to live on SNAP benefits because, as well, I had no other choice.  While upon first glance the link between literacy, social awareness and health may not be obvious, in the case of my life - and the choices I could have made that I was not aware that I could make - it absolutely makes complete sense.

My mother gave me a library card at the age of eight, and it wasn't so much because I loved to read. Oftentimes, when she was working overtime on the weekends in order to make ends meet.  There were days where as soon as the doors opened at the Fairmount Heights branch of the Prince George's County Public Library, my mother would give me my card, escort me to a table, and tell the librarians that she'd be back for me by 2 PM.  Yes, for a solid year or so of my life, I was occasionally babysat by books. I read about everything.  I'd find a favorite author or a favorite subject, and in six hours, I'd get started, then take entire collections out of the library to complete at home.  I was hooked.  I would read everything from Matt Christopher writing about youth sports heroes to Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume.  Accompanied by a dictionary, I became a fanatic for reading old editions of the Washington Post and Sports Illustrated.  Reading helped me understand the universe, and words sharpened and defined my idea of what the world was and ultimately could become.

The other thing I loved to read were cookbooks.  My mother - though constrained by what she was able to afford to cook - was truly a wizard.  Even before we received assistance, whatever was on sale ended up on the plate, and never tasted terrible.   Chicken livers?  Well, when they were breaded, fried and served with gravy, they were easily be explained off as being "just like Chicken McNuggets." Beef liver was an infinitely more difficult sell until the first time she ever saw me eat "country fried" steak; then beef liver became a strange new delicacy after being dipped in egg and flour and thrown into a frying pan.  Of course, in the cookbooks I loved to read, none of those meals even existed.  My favorite cookbook was Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which always and forever for me will be a strange and evocative read, everything described then seeming so unique, delicious and sadly out of my immediate reach.

By the time I reached the fourth grade, I was 125 pounds and miserable, a diet of fast food and preservative-filled dining not exactly being kind to my waistline.  I didn't love to read at that point, I clung to it.  Books were far less judgmental than potential friends could be, and that was enough for me.  Yes, I still read cookbooks, too. I still was intrigued by what people ate in various countries around the world, and I desired to sample those foods as well.  Of course, at the end of the day, I'd stare at myself in the mirror, think, "wow, I'm just a fat, helpless geek." From there, I built an invisible force field around myself made of books and food.  Being portly, angry and book-smart pretty much became my way of life, and just to think - if an organization like Microgreens had existed, life would have never been this way.

In May 2013, I took the SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge in order to raise awareness for my friend, chef Alli Sosna and Microgreens. Microgreens is a DC-based but nationally-spreading organization founded to teach children who are SNAP recipients how to maintain a healthy diet. I empathize and ultimately support the work of Microgreens for many reasons, two of which being my love of reading and my wanderlust for rare culinary opportunities. If I (or my mother) would have known when I was a child that palatable and ultimately healthy meals were available at an affordable price for a very restricted budget, it would have easily changed my life. 

Literacy opened doors for me that ultimately, due to my own lack of awareness, I closed on myself. To be able to reward someone who is aware with a persistent array of unlimited, yet beneficial choices is an amazing notion that thankfully now exists.

With a finger on the pulse of the past, present and future of business, media, art and entertainment, Washington, DC native Marcus K. Dowling is a locally, nationally and internationally respected veteran executive and journalist.

Over the past five years, Dowling has distinguished himself as a music/arts blogger and journalist for print and online publications, including: The Washington Post, Washington City Paper, Washington Informer, Washingtonian Magazine, BrooklynBodega.com and the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival, DC-based arts and music sites Brightest Young Things, the Pink Line Project, as well as numerous online dance music portals.

As Executive Director at Listen Vision - the Nation’s Capital’s oldest recording studio - he oversees not just the studio, but the WLVS Radio brand, growing the online streaming audio and video portal’s number of broadcasters by 52% in the past 18 months. At present, 80-plus hours of live weekly content is being globally accessed in over 130 countries on one of the United States’ largest online radio entertainment providers. At DC-based Ross Business Management, Dowling works as a  Business Development and Acquisition Consultant, assisting the business management firm specializing in the creative community with brand, relationship and business management. As well, as one of the founding principals of Vamos Promo - a PR and marketing firm that services the progressive underground dance community - he aligns DJs and producers with high-profile brand development and content marketing opportunities.

Twitter - @marcuskdowling
Facebook - @marcuskdowling

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Written for Mission Read 2013