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Blackwell Librarian Reflects on Partnership with African Community Learning Program

Becky Shaknovich (center) receives a certificate during African Community Learning Program's Africa Celebration at the Blackwell Library. Hazim Hardeman (left) and Aminata Sy (right ).

On the sunny afternoon of Monday, May 22, 2017, I visited to the Blackwell Library to browse the newly renovated children's department, to see familiar faces, and talk about the idea that later became: African Community Learning Program (ACLP).

Ms. Nani Manion, now the regional department head, was there to greet me.

“Ms. Sy, so nice to see you!” she exclaimed.

“It’s nice to see you too, Ms. Nani! I missed this place. It’s been almost two years that you closed. I’m happy you’re finally open,” I said.

“Welcome back! We’re glad to have you,” responded Ms. Nani. “I want to introduce you to Becky Shaknovich, our new children's department head. Becky, this is Ms. Sy.”

“Please call me Aminata. Ms. Sy is too formal,” I said.

“Aminata has been our patron since her kids were small, Amadou, Aissata, and now Ibra,” explained Ms. Nani.

Aminata Sy reads to her children at the Blackwell Library in the summer 2012. // Photo Courtesy Ms. Nani Manion.

That day, I told Ms. Nani about my intention to launch African Community Learning Program and to partner with the Blackwell Library. Her response was short and clear, “Let’s do it!”

Almost one year later, I interviewed Becky about our partnership.

Q: What has our partnership meant to the Blackwell Library?

A: It’s been exciting partnering with African Community Learning Program. Community partnerships are big part of what we do at the library, bringing information resources to organizations that serve our neighborhood. Working with you has been special because we don’t often get a chance to partner with organizations as they build from the ground up. We were able to play an integral role in selecting books for the curriculum. It’s the kind of in depth research and reference work that librarians love to do! We learned a lot about what is available, and more importantly the lack of resources that truly provide representation for the children of ACLP, and are written by Own Voices. Being aware of the needs, we are able to become better advocates for diversity in books for children and teens, and develop the best possible collection here at Lucien E. Blackwell West Philadelphia Regional Library. And on a personal level, I have also made a great friend in you, Aminata.

Becky (front) is with African Community Learning Program's students and volunteers during the final day of our African countries' projects in fall 2017 at Blackwell Library.

Q: What progress have you observed with African Community Learning Program’s first year?

A: It has been very exciting to watch ACLP blossom from an idea into a fully realized after school program. You and your volunteers and partners have really helped the children gain confidence, improve their English Language and reading skills, and be successful in school.You have done a great deal with very little in the way of resources, and I am looking forward to seeing all that you can achieve as you grow in the coming years. As someone who comes from an immigrant family myself, I know how valuable it is for the kids to have this warm, caring, nurturing learning environment that you created, and kind adult role models in their teachers and volunteers who can connect them with the resources they need to succeed.This is not something they can necessarily get in school. In addition, ACLP has brought new library users to the library.

Becky stops by at African Community Learning Program to tell students about their resources and invite them to use the library.

Q: What would you say to potential future partners or donors about African Community Learning Program?

A: It’s been very rewarding working with African Community Learning Program -- watching the children learn and be successful, gain confidence to present, to share their cultures -- has been really amazing. But in addition to that, you and the African Community Learning Program have been great partners to us at the Blackwell library. You give back by being a member of our community, attending friends’ meetings, participating in letter writing campaign, and being a great supporter of the library as a whole.

Q: Are there any final words that you will like to add?

A: I want to shout out to my colleges here at the Blackwell Regional Library, children's librarians Wilhelmina Alimi, and Jessica Walker, as well as our regional librarian Nani Manion. Just looking forward to continuing working with you and African Community Learning Program and see the program grow.

Becky (right) and Aminata (left) at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton Startup Challenge, where African Community Learning Program became 2018 Social Impact finalist.

Aminata Sy is the founder and president of African Community Learning Program, a multimedia journalist, and a rising junior at the University of Pennsylvania, where she studies international relations and English.

African Community Learning Program educates, connects, empowers, and supports people of African background in West Philadelphia.

To support African Community Learning Program visit:

or email Aminata Sy at

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