Wills has written three children’s books and each student received a copy of one. They are: “The Emancipation of Grandpa Sandy Wills,” a picture book; “Emancipated,” a chapter book; and “Emma,” a picture book. The Emmy Award-winning reporter and author’s series of books are about her enslaved great-grandfather Sandy Wills, who was a Union Soldier during The Civil War and then gained his freedom.
Author Cindy Willis spoke to two groups in an hour-long session: third- to fifth-grade students, and sixth- to eighth-grade students.
Wills travels around the world, motivating students to connect with their family roots. Her powerful presentations also provide students with the confidence and skills they need to fight social injustices and to build productive lives.
“She spoke about her childhood, how she grew up in public housing in Queens, and losing her father at a young age,” said Tiffany Dunagan, Moral Focus Team Lead who helped arrange for Wills to speak. “Wills told the students they are special, and no one can take their dreams away. She asked them to be the best they can be and to appreciate the education they are getting. It will help them fulfill their dreams.
“She also talked about her job as an anchor at NY1 and some of the famous people she has had the privilege to interview. She connected being a journalist and doing research to finding out about her Grandpa Sandy Wills and needing to share his story and her family’s story.
After her formal presentation, students lined up to ask her questions.
Wills also spoke about January’s Moral Focus virtue, perseverance, and African American history as it related to Martin Luther King Day and African American history month in February.
“It is important to bring speakers like Cheryl in to talk with the scholars because they bring authenticity and credibility to the reading and writing process,” Brooklyn Scholars Principal Roxanne Thomas said. “It’s important for students to know that authors are real people with real stories to tell just like them. Author visits inspire scholars to dream big and to persevere through any challenges that they may have right now. Their own experiences can become the next great chapter book.”
Author and journalist Cheryl Wills, left, and Brooklyn Scholars Principal Roxanne Thomas stand before the three children’s books Wills has written.
Wills' work as a Spectrum NY1 News TV anchorwoman has helped her create a list of accomplishments that is long and impressive. She has interviewed some of the most influential figures in the world, including the first woman president of Africa, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia; United Nations Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon; and the late, great writer and activist Maya Angelou.
After Wills finished her presentation, she had students ask questions. She also stayed afterward to visit with any student who wanted to talk to more. Hopefully, a few students were inspired to be a writer or journalist by this event.
Every scholar who attended the presentation could pick one of Wills’ books to keep.
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About Brooklyn Scholars Charter School
Brooklyn Scholars Charter School is a tuition-free, public charter school in Brooklyn, New York, serving students in kindergarten through eighth grade. It is part of the National Heritage Academies network, which includes over 100 tuition-free, public charter schools serving more than 65,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade across nine states. For more information, visit nhaschools.com.