By Catherine Cheng, Amazing Kid of the Month Columnist
This past year, Taylor Richardson has collected over 500 books for underserved children to promote literacy. She loves reading to others and encouraging others to follow their dreams. Her own dream consists of getting to Mars and she is currently trying to become the first African American to visit all 14 US space centers. Read on to find out more about her story.
AK: You are part of the Mars Generation as a student space ambassador. How did you get involved in Mars Generation and what things do you do as a student ambassador?
TR: I love space and want to someday go to Mars. I found out about TMG on the internet and began researching information about the founder, a girl named Nicole Harrison. She wants to go to Mars and she created TMG so that kids like me who love space and Mars would have a way to meet people with like interests and outreach for space exploration. As a student space ambassador I get to share my excitement and love for space. Right now TMG is launching a program called Train like an Astronaut during the week of April 18-24, 2016. As a Student Space Ambassador my job is to inform people about the program in my city and hopefully have more kids and sponsors join our mission which is to excite young people and adults about human space exploration and STEM/STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) education and foster an understanding of the importance of these two elements to the future of humankind on Earth. I would like to say a lot of the information can be found on the TMG website at http://themarsgeneration.org/. I am so proud to be a part of this and reach kids who, if this was not available, would not know that they can too dream BIG and become an astronaut one day.
AK: When did you start loving space? Tell us a bit about your dreams and why you want to be an astronaut.
TR: Wow. That’s easy. I started loving space when I was about 5 years old. I drew the moon and stars and began to wonder what is beyond that. What really made want to be an astronaut though was when I was in 4th grade and I saw this book I wanted to read. It was Dr. Mae Jemison’s autobiography Find Where the Wind Goes. Since then I have read everything on her. She’s one of my idols. I can’t wait to meet her one day. I want to be an astronaut because I feel that there is life beyond earth and that some of the planets, particularly Mars, may be an option for us to live on one day. I love science, space and especially working DNA.
AK: Your program Take Flight with A Book focuses on helping underserved children access books. Could you give us a bit more information about the program and why it is meaningful to you?
TR: My book drives are very special to me because when I was younger I did not read well. My mom literally read to me or gave me audiobooks to help and it did. I believe that all kids should have books to read so that they can learn about our world and inspire them to dream BIG. I feel books can allow people to take flight to their own dreams and aspirations. I also hope that by giving books to kids and their families they will spend more quality reading time together and maybe even inspire them to go to the public library and check out books of their interest. I’m on my 3rd book drive and collecting books from March to June to give to various organizations in Jacksonville for kids. My goal is 1500 books for this drive and I am at 500; but, even if I don’t meet my goal, my goal has been met by giving those books to 500 kids who did not have a book before. And that is what matters most to me.
AK: As part of your mission to increase literacy, you also read to children. What do you think makes reading so powerful and why is literacy something you aim to promote?
TR: I think reading is the most powerful tool to be successful. It’s really hard to do or learn anything if you do not know how to read. I promote literacy because I feel that it gets lost in the cracks of our education system between elementary to middle to high school. I know I am only in middle school but literacy has changed. In elementary school I had to read a lot and even though I struggled in the beginning I learned to just keep reading and ask questions and it got better. Now that I am in middle school reading has become more relaxed in that I have to be more proactive in my reading which is why I still read at least 30 minutes every day whether it’s required or not. I believe research has even shown that the more you read the more you know and how can that be bad? So I am all for literacy efforts to ensure kids and adults can read so that they can be better and stronger people. It makes our community better too if our literacy is up.
AK: So far, what do you view as your biggest achievements and / or successes?
TR: Well I have won a lot of awards that range from an essay contest to volunteering; but, my biggest achievement is just being able to serve and do God’s work. My friend Mr. Smith always tells me to serve and work hard and I am doing that. I’m only 13 and I don’t have lots of money but like my mom said I can always be kind and useful. I feel I am doing that in my small way through reading and giving books to kids. My success is in knowing that I am making a positive impact in someone’s life through books. Even if I don’t become an astronaut I may just inspire the next kid to do so. But I will be an astronaut one day and work for NASA.
AK: Recently, you’ve also won the MLK Tomorrow’s Leader Essay Award. Could you tell us about your essay, the award, and why you choose to write about what you wrote?
TR: My essay was about how I felt if Dr. King was still alive and I would believe that he would still think it’s a wonderful world. During his time, the world was not nice to people of color and even though we still have issues it’s so much better for me because of him. I wrote my essay about that because in my heart I believe that we still live in a wonderful world where we can still make a change and do what’s right for all people. The award is given to the top 3 essays, one each from an elementary, middle and high school level. I won for middle school. I enjoyed the opportunity to read my winning essay and sit next to my mentor Mr. Smith on stage.
AK: You have also been recognized many times for your service. Could you describe some of these awards and how your actions led to your receiving of them? What do you think is the most important thing to remember when giving back?
TR: Most of my awards have been due to my community service for my book drives, reading to little kids and helping homeless people. Just this year, I have received the Point of Light award as an honoree and the MLK Tomorrow Leader’s award for my essay efforts. I also received the Champion of Service award in March for my volunteer service. I got to meet the governor of Florida for that award it was amazing. I think the most important thing to remember when giving back is to do it from the heart and not recognition. My mom and I both volunteer because we want to and should help others, period. And I am glad I can just serve.
AK: If you could change one thing about this world, what would it be and why?
TR: If I could change one thing about this world it would be world hunger. I think it’s sad that people do not have enough food to eat. It’s a basic need that most take for granted and if I had the money to ensure everyone had good healthy food I would do it in a heartbeat. Having healthy good food to eat gives you strength to do what you need to do. It’s not cool to be hungry in class or at work. So I would end world hunger.
AK: What advice would you give to our readers about following their dreams and making a difference?
TR: I would say to not let your age, gender, color or whether you have lots of money affect your dreams and making a difference in someone’s life. My mom and I have had some struggles but we both continue to work hard so that we can uplift and inspire others to pay it forward. We all have something unique and important about us so share it with the world. You never know who you might inspire just with a kind word, hug, or book.
AK: Is there anything else you would like to add?
TR: I would like to end with my quote from my idol Dr. Jemison that I continue to live by every day and that is, “Never be limited by other people’s limited imagination.” Dream BIG, work hard and Serve. Thank you.