As diversity committee affairs vice chair in LSA Student Government and co-founder of Books for a Benefit, Public Policy sophomore Nadine Jawad has been at the forefront of working to address important societal issues for awhile, especially when it comes to literacy.
When asked about how she spent her Saturday night, Jawad admitted she stayed up a little too late — later than she should be — reading classics.
“I recently bought 10 new classics because I love Oscar Wilde and Ernest Hemingway,” she said. “They’re taunting me because I’m sitting there doing my homework and they’re sitting there and I want to read them so badly.”
In just two years at the University, Jawad has transformed her love of literature into founding BFB — a student organization dedicated to promoting education and literacy in at-risk and low socio-economic status communities. Now with five chapters at different colleges in Michigan, BFB has expanded to provide tutoring services and a pen pals program with Syrian refugees to help them improve their English. BFB also coordinates outreach trips a few times per semester to Detroit public schools, where its volunteers bring books and backpacks and work with students to prepare them for high school and college.
BFB began as a book club where college students could interact with students in the Ann Arbor community, but it has grown into something much more.
“We want students to realize how important school, education and reading is,” Jawad said.
Though her family was not well-off, as a young child, Jawad said she was fortunate to have parents who took the time to read to her and take her to get books and go to the library. Thinking back on the support she received from her family, Jawad recalled the countless times she would wake her mom up at midnight frantically asking her what a word meant so she could continue to read. Reading became a way for her to overcome hardships she faced in her childhood, and she said she wants to provide that opportunity for as many children as she can.
That said, though BFB hopes to start a Flint chapter, its goal is not infinite expansion.
“We want to make sure that this isn’t a thing where people are trying to build their resumes or do it for the wrong reasons,” Jawad said. “We want to leave a long-lasting impact on the communities. We really value quality over quantity.”
When describing BFB, Jawad speaks in terms of we want, what we value, underscoring her understanding of the organization as a collaborative effort. Despite being a co-founder — the concept of BFB was her idea — when talking about the organization, Jawad consistently emphasizes that it hasn’t been just her. The board of BFB in particular has been a driving force in the organization’s success and expansion, she said.
“What is most rewarding is not only seeing the impact on students we serve but also on the volunteer side, seeing people who are equally — if not more — passionate about the cause than I am.”
Despite the largely rewarding experiences she’s had through BFB, Jawad is still grounded in reality, asking herself hard questions.
“Issues are so systemic. When you’re at a school, you ask, ‘are you really doing anything for these kids? Books, backpacks, do they make a difference?’ ” she said. “Giving them a book isn’t going to change the fact that they are poor, or the fact that their mom’s single or the fact that no one pays taxes and they’re so poor, so their education system sucks.”
Jawad believes that enacting change it is not only about tapping into what you are passionate about, but also realizing what the root cause of the problem is.
“People on this campus are so social justice-oriented,” she said. “But it’s not just about doing what you’re interested in, it’s also realizing the root causes of these issues, and poor education is a root cause of many issues, whether they concern medicine, law or policy.”