The HBCU Book Challenge began as an effort by Grambling State University’s Psychology and Sociology Club members to bring more reading materials to inmates in Louisiana. After seeing a small prison library with a shortage of books, club members were inspired to organize a book drive last spring that collected 225 books for the inmates at Richwood Correctional Center in Monroe.
“This adventure got started when we were trying to look for more ideas inside the club,” Psychology and Sociology Club President Jack Chandler said. “A lot of the guys said let’s go to a prison. When we were at the prison at Richwood, Dr. (Matt) Sheptoski noticed the lack of materials, and said we’ve got our next project.”
Fueled by the success of their first book drive, the Psychology and Sociology Club members were inspired to hold a second book drive, while simultaneously challenging other Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) around the country to do the same.
The second book drive raised nearly 10 times the amount of the first drive, a total of 2,167 books collected from the students, employees and community members at Grambling, along with a generous donation from Lincoln Parish Library in Ruston.
Three other HBCUs took the challenge: Alabama State University, Alcorn State University and Savannah State University. Altogether, the four universities collected more than 4,500 books for prison libraries in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia.
GSU club members delivered the first of the donated books to Caddo Correctional Center in Shreveport on Dec. 1.
“Some of these inmates are very smart, and bringing in books is good for them,” said Sgt. Robert Montoya, who has worked at Caddo Correctional Center for 17 years.
The students also toured the correctional facility, which gave them the opportunity to see the library where the softcover books can be checked out by inmates, as well as the program facility where instructors and tutors will use the donated textbooks to teach inmates.
“Seeing the books properly placed inside the prison library among other books was very rewarding. Seeing the accomplishment of the club and the different community leaders come to life felt rewarding, because we have people inside the prison who are going to tutor other prisoners. You never know what reading level someone is at, so I am glad we have a variety of books where people can grow their reading skills,” Chandler said.
For Matt Sheptoski, the faculty advisor of the Psychology and Sociology Club, the most rewarding part of the day was being thanked by an inmate in the prison library.
“There was actually an inmate working in the prison library, and he said to us that the books that we donated will specifically be useful in what he does. He teaches social studies, so it was nice to hear from an actual inmate who said this is meaningful, this is helpful, and he just wanted to thank us,” said Sheptoski, who wanted to thank everyone who participated in the HBCU Book Challenge.
“The GSU Psychology and Sociology Club would like to extend a sincere thank you to all community members from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia who helped make the HBCU Challenge a monumental success,” he said.
“We enthusiastically acknowledge the efforts of those at our sister schools who accepted our challenge to a friendly competition, so thank you Alabama State University, Alcorn State University and Savannah State University students, faculty, alumni and stakeholders. Billed as a friendly competition, HBCU Challenge participants collected over 4,500 books, a collective victory which all who participated in can be proud of. The true victors, we hope and pray, however, will be the inmates whose perspectives are broadened and whose lives may be touched by the books you have donated.” more info