Civic engagement transcends voting. It’s also about what’s happening now as our country transitions from President Barack Obama’s administration to that of President Donald Trump: marches, protests, direct action and collective resistance.
Gary Hooker Jr. wrote a book about it when he was a fifth-grader at Bugg Elementary School.
“Gary Sees History: A Child’s Journey” chronicles Hooker and a friend’s experience at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, where his mother, Lisa Hooker, was a delegate to elect Obama as candidate. The book was first self-published in 2012 by dad Gary Hooker Sr.’s SEE Entertainment.
This month, the Hookers announced the nonprofit SEE Foundation and launched its Read About It, Be About It initiative to promote civic engagement at an early age. The initiative includes a GoFundMe campaign to print 10,000 books and develop a companion curriculum and youth mentoring program.
At first, Gary Hooker Jr. wasn’t interested politics, let alone spending time away from friends at the DNC – until the Hookers also invited his best friend, Cameron Nelson.
“Cameron and I witness things like protesters, and we see our constitution being put in to action,” recalled Hooker, a Rolesville High alum who is now a freshman at N.C. A&T State University in Greensboro. “We see President Barack Obama and other famous people in politics at the convention.
“We’re having a great time, and it really opens up the doorway for us at a young age,” he added. “We weren’t interested in it at all, but after being there, it changed our perspective of things. It’s cool to be aware of politics at a young age, to know what’s going on and to want to be part of what happens in our community and in our world.
“I knew it was a big deal.”
“Gary Sees History” started as a Christmas present from son to father, a pamphlet about the experience the then-10-year-old wrote and wrapped himself.
Later, his parents joined him at the table to help pen the 30-page hardback.
So far, the Hookers have requests for 1,000 books and hope to also fulfill interests by providing books to the Boys and Girls Club, Communities in Schools and the YMCA.
They also visited the Charlotte Hornets Foundation’s Hornets Book Bus and are excited about the possibility of “Gary Sees History” finding a spot on the 3,000-book mobile library.
“Our goal is to get the book into schools and organizations to be a vessel to assist in their civic engagement lesson,” Gary Hooker Sr. said.
By championing Obama’s legacy of citizen empowerment through civic engagement, the Hookers aim not only to freeze-frame history, but also to fuel democracy’s future by instilling the importance of individual and collective action to ensure representative government, from volunteering to voting.
“We want to help children learn how to be civically engaged in their own community. First, teach them they can take on a small concern and help fix it, let them know they’re never too young to make a difference,” Lisa Hooker said. “When they learn they can tackle small problems in their own community or school, then they will become engaged for a lifetime.”
November’s presidential election proves it’s a lesson still being learned, Gary Hooker Sr. said, pointing out how the number of votes in a few states led to Electoral College votes outweighing the popular vote.
“One person can make a difference,” he said. “Those who sat out of this election made the difference.”
Although rooted in the history of electing the first African-American U.S. president, the book’s message is timeless.
“It is our democracy and our country; we just have to get out and get involved,” Lisa Hooker said. “The mindset in our country now is we have to be the change to make the change. But you can’t just read about and then sit on the sideline, you have to be about it.”