Turning the page for literacy

October 11, 2023

After a life-changing field trip to a bookstore, Alyamamh Rahimee leads the new student organization Breaking the Cycle with Books.

Alyamamh Rahimee, a first-year UM-Dearborn student, leads the campus chapter of Breaking the Cycle with Books
Alyamamh Rahimee, a first-year UM-Dearborn student, leads the campus chapter of Breaking the Cycle with Books.

Does how we experience books and the choice of books offered to us influence what sort of reader a person becomes –or whether they become a reader at all? Breaking the Cycle with Books, a new student organization at UM-Dearborn, sees the experience of visiting an independent bookstore as a powerful tool to promote literacy. 

President Alyamamh Rahimee can personally attest to the method's success. “It just opened doors for me to read more," she says. "And I'm not exaggerating. Before that, I had barely completed a book."

The UM-Dearborn chapter of Breaking the Cycle with Books spun out of the Detroit-based nonprofit founded by Mike Cruz, a 2008 College of Education, Health, and Human Services graduate. Cruz, Rahimee's social studies teacher at Western International High School, launched the program through his classroom and took students on field trips to local bookstores, allowing them to choose any three books they liked for free. Cruz has since expanded the program to provide these field trips for students at other Title I schools in Detroit. The UM-Dearborn student organization works in partnership with Cruz, but operates independently.

"I was one of those students who got to experience Breaking the Cycle with Books," Rahimee says, recounting a field trip Cruz led to Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor. "I wasn't really into reading at that time. And then when I got to go on the field trip, it was such a nice experience. I got to choose whatever I wanted and explore my interests outside of school." She emphasizes that the ability to choose what she wanted to read, not bound to any class assignment or curriculum, made a difference when it came to improving her literacy skills and reading habits. 

Among the books she chose was “Dear Martin” by Nic Stone. "It explored racism and how it ultimately ends lives,” she says. “I chose this specifically because it was a topic of interest to me to explore the roots of racism and where it stems from."

The UM-Dearborn club, founded by Rahimee's older sister, Ahlam Rahimee, and led by Alyamamh since Ahlam 2023 graduation, is focused on Breaking the Cycle with Books’ mission “to provide equitable access to literacy for historically underserved youth in an effort to increase high school retention, cultural enhancement and college readiness.” Ahlam Rahimee, a medical assistant at a Dearborn Heights medical center, says the organization also helps people raised in more privileged communities become connected and aware of challenges within underserved ones. 

"I saw the potential that it could bring for students at UM-Dearborn," Ahlam Rahimme says. "I noticed many of my classmates would benefit by allowing them to explore and learn from the experience of working with underserved communities and be able to connect with these communities through the love of books.” The older Rahimee sister serves on the executive board of the Breaking the Cycle with Books organization.

Alyamamh Rahimee, who has just begun her first year at UM-Dearborn, says she’s eager to extend the experience she received in high school to others. The university’s chapter is still in the planning stages for bookstore excursions; Rahimee says members are working to organize two bookstore trips in the spring. Their current focus is fundraising for larger expenses, such as bus transportation. Members are looking for sponsors and will host two bake sales in the Renick University Center on Oct. 18 and Nov. 1. Looking into the future, Rahimee says she would like to expand the program beyond high school and have their student organization work with elementary and middle schools. Currently, the org is focused on Detroit schools, but the UM-Dearborn student group would like to expand to Dearborn schools too.

Want to help Breaking the Cycle with Books? Rahimee encourages anyone who wants to get involved to get in touch through VictorsLink

Article by Shaun Manning