Russell Westbrook puts up big numbers for education with his 19th elementary reading room

Russell Westbrook helped students choose books at the opening of his Russell’s Reading Room at Adams Elementary on March 21. (Michael Kinney / for <em>Gazette</em>)

Russell Westbrook helped students choose books at the opening of his Russell’s Reading Room at Adams Elementary on March 21. (Michael Kinney / for Gazette)

In 2015, Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook decided to take on illiteracy in America. That year, he opened the first Russell’s Reading Room in Oklahoma City at North Highland Elementary. Two years later, his motivation hasn’t wavered.

Westbrook and his Why Not? Foundation launched 10 new Russell’s Reading Rooms throughout Oklahoma City on March 21, totaling 16 in the city with three more in Los Angeles.

“With the support over the years of people all over the world supporting my foundation, they’re finding ways to help me make these things possible for the kids,” Westbrook told Oklahoma Gazette. “It’s important to be able to constantly keep giving back any way I can, in as many places I can at the same time.”

Russell’s Reading Room is a literacy initiative created by Westbrook’s Why Not? Foundation. The rooms provide students access to more than 1,200 books and a safe environment to read while at school. Books are provided by Scholastic and include a variety of genres, subjects and reading levels.

“There are very few outlets anymore for children to purchase books,” said Scholastic’s Chris Müller. “As you have noticed, all the major book stores are closing. For the kids to have access, we bring them right to the school.”

When the first reading room opened, students could only come in and read the books at school. Now, students at all 19 schools can also purchase books to take home and keep.

“Literacy is very important to me and my foundation and what I believe in,” Westbrook said. “It starts young, in elementary. I think kids, once they get a room like this, they feel excited about it … I think it makes it fun for them.”

Russell Westbrook handed out gift certificates at the opening of his Russell’s Reading Room at Adams Elementary on March 21. (Michael Kinney / for <em>Gazette</em>)

Russell Westbrook handed out gift certificates at the opening of his Russell’s Reading Room at Adams Elementary on March 21. (Michael Kinney / for Gazette)

The newest group of OKC elementaries to open rooms are Adams, Arthur, Bodine, Britton, Edgemere, Green Pastures, Gatewood, Greystone, Oakridge and Pierce.

“It means a great deal to our community, to our families, for Russell to come and give some attention to our kids here on the southside of Oklahoma City,” said Adams principal Heather Zacarias. “It encourages reading; it encourages that community feel that he is a part of Oklahoma City. I just really appreciate what he did for our school.”

The Why Not? Foundation, in partnership with Scholastic, sponsored school-wide book fairs at each of the 10 schools. Each student received a gift certificate from Westbrook’s foundation, allowing them to take home and keep one free book.

“The proceeds from that sale go back into the school, and we can use it to buy more books for this room, furniture for this room,” Zacarias said.

Westbrook said the fact that he’s opened 19 reading rooms just two years after he opened his first one still comes as a shock to him. But he is far from being satisfied.

“I was just hoping I could constantly keep growing it and growing it,” Westbrook said. “Now, I am here, about to be at 20, which is great. I will keep going until I can’t go any more, keep trying to find ways to reach out to different communities.”

Visit facebook.com/whynotfoundation.

Print headline: Reading rules, Russell Westbrook recently visited Adams Elementary School to open his 19th reading room.

Michael Kinney

This article was written by an Oklahoma Gazette contributor. To reach an editor, please email jchancellor@okgazette.com with this story's headline in your subject line.

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