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Daphne Russell and Aaron Michael Morales met in Tucson, Arizona, in the spring of 2011, at the Pima Community College Writing Conference where Aaron was the Keynote Speaker and Daphne volunteered as his personal driver. Within moments of meeting, their friendship kindled and expanded over their mutual love of the Sonoran Desert and an obsession with life-changing literacy.
Fast forward to the fall of 2023. This time, they would meet again in Chicago–where Aaron currently lives. Daphne had recently been magnetically drawn to the Windy City in an attempt to spark a literacy movement during a Banned Book week event at the University of Illinois, Chicago that featured Illinois Secretary of State/State Librarian Alexi Giannoullias, State Representative Kelly Cassidy, and YA author Nic Stone, among others. It was during this trip that Aaron saw the gravity of what Daphne was trying to accomplish and knew he had to help.
Within days of the Banned Books event, Aaron came on board as President of Books Save Lives to help spearhead multiple projects in Chicago and help solidify connections and opportunities for a literacy revolution in the Chicagoland area.
Daphne and Aaron, two kindred spirits who obsess over the power of literacy and have devoted their lives to bringing the life-changing power of books to their communities, now lead the revolution as a team, backed up by a number of true believers who give of their time and energy to help us further our cause.
Daphne considers herself an Educational Evolutionist. She knows she would not have had the insight into the missing piece of the literacy puzzle without the hard work and effort of those scholars and groundbreakers who came before her. She has amassed thirty four years of teaching students who have endured her tireless practice trials and exploratory techniques as she sought to find a simple solution to offering every child the opportunity to begin and solidify their lifelong reading journey.
Daphne admits that all the books she has read have contributed to her literacy evolution, but cites some very specific work that helped her bring Books Save Lives to fruition:
Multicultural Education by Dr. James Banks
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay
Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen
Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol
TIpping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Another Country by James Baldwin
Outliers by Adam Grant
Atomic Habits by James Clear
The Alphabet Versus the Goddess by Dr. Leonard Shlain
Human Kind by Rutger Bregman
Whistling Vivaldi by Claude Steele
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Aaron is a walking example of the power of books to change a life’s trajectory. Born and raised in Tucson, Aaron grew up in poverty and thought his life was charted out for him. His oldest brother, who has spent the vast majority of his life in prison (where he will remain for the rest of his life), mentored him on the streets of the city, with the expectation that Aaron would follow in his footsteps.
That journey was interrupted by books.
At a very young age, Aaron devoured everything he could possibly get his hands on: his father’s comic book collection, newspapers, the Bible, kids books, YA books, adult books, magazines, manuals, dictionaries, yellow pages. Submersed in a world of words, Aaron soon found that life might have much more to offer him than the limitations he thought he had been born into. Aaron realized words were powerful. That reading would be the way out. So books became everything. And words gave him power.
Aaron got his first paying gig as a paperboy, at ten years old, delivering the Arizona Daily Star. He went to work in hospitality as a fourteen-year-old and he became a father at eighteen, barely graduating from high school, but electing to attempt college anyway, since his employer was offering partial tuition reimbursement for a B average or higher. He went for the financial incentive, and stayed for his newfound love of education.
Aaron came into his own in college and went on to graduate with an MFA in Fiction Writing from Purdue University. He became a two-time distinguished-award-winning professor (teaching in universities for fifteen years), and–to date–has published three books, scores of short stories, book reviews, interviews, and numerous essays.
Books not only saved his life, they are his life.
After returning to Chicago to open a business as an academic consultant in 2016 (his third small business he had started), Aaron felt the pull of Daphne’s brainchild–Books Save Lives. After closely watching her nurture her upstart literacy initiative for five years, Aaron finally joined forces with Daphne and Books Save Lives in order to assist her in realizing her dream of literacy for all.
As Daphne’s Chicago connection, Aaron works feverishly to help saturate the city with Books Save Lives initiatives, striving to make meaningful connections with young people, students, educators, parents, and community organizations and leaders to further the Books Save Lives cause.
Because books saved his life, Aaron knows that books can save all lives and give meaning and purpose to people who feel unheard and unseen.
The story is still being written…
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