LeVar Burton

What are you most trying to accomplish in your work? 

Our mission is, and always has been, to change the lives of millions of children one book at a time.  Ever since Reading Rainbow began in 1983,w e have been fostering a love of reading in children through the use of modern technology.  Reading Rainbow successfully used television to turn generations of kids into lifelong readers with great results including over 200 broadcast awards including a Peabody and 26 Emmys.  Of course, when Reading Rainbow began in 1983, we were using television to bring books to kids, meeting them where they wanted to be.  In 2012, we launched the Reading Rainbow App for tablets - building on the basics of the television series to reach a new generation of digital natives.  The response has been encouraging with the Reading Rainbow App becoming the #1 Educational App with over 20 million books and video enjoyed by children since launch.  But despite this progress, there are big challenges left to face.  Not all families have access to tablets so to reach kids everywhere, we need to be on the web, mobile devices, gaming consoles and connected television.  We also discovered that a resounding number of teachers want Reading Rainbow in their classrooms, where they know it can make a difference. Thats why we turned to Kickstarter to bring Reading Rainbow’s library of interactive books and video field trips to more platforms and provide free access to classrooms in need

What do you think sets your work apart from the work of others in your field?

Reading Rainbow is THE trusted brand in children’s learning. This stems from a few very important factors, the first being LeVar Burton’s lifelong mission as an education advocate who is passionate about igniting a love of reading, rather than trying to teach kids how to read. The second variable that sets us apart from others in our field has to be our proven ability to deliver the perfect blend of enrichment and entertainment that helps children to make real-world connections to literature. Finally, Reading Rainbow is able to gain unprecedented access to places like The White House, NASA JPL, The Library of Congress and many other exclusive locations in order to take children on journeys that truly do spark an excitement for learning and allow them to “go anywhere, be anything."

What or who inspired you to get into your field? Do you have any individuals or groups of people that you credit with helping you achieve the goals you set out to accomplish?

Reading Rainbow made its debut in 1983 on public television with the mission to use the medium of television to keep kids reading during the summer by fostering a love for reading, created and inspired to be a solution to combat Summer Learning Loss (a problem as a result of when young people experience learning losses when they don’t engage in educational activities during the summer).  LeVar Burton became host and producer of Reading Rainbow, crediting his passion for learning to his mother Erma G. Christian who was a teacher that instilled in her children the importance of a good education and love of reading.  Our current goal is to bring our library of interactive books and video field trips to more platforms so that future generations of children will be able to experience the magic of Reading Rainbow.  This goal has become a reality thanks to the record-breaking 105,000 backers who contributed to the Kickstarter campaign, allowing us to help over 10,000 classrooms in need.

What role has serendipity played in the turning points in your career? 

While Reading Rainbow has been around for over 30 years, the most serendipitous moment occurred within the last few months.  The Kickstarter campaign’s goal was to raise $1 Million in 35 days to bring Reading Rainbow to “Every Child, Everywhere.”  This was a monumental undertaking, even within the 35 day timeframe, that included many challenges and risks.  An unbelievable moment occurred within just 11 hours of the campaign starting when we reached our goal of $1 Million.  We were stunned, overwhelmed and completely gracious at the level of support we received so quickly, and then continued to be overwhelmed as never-ending pledges came in all throughout the remaining 34 days of the campaign.  By the end of the Kickstater, we had raised over $5 Million which has enabled us to support more schools and bring Reading Rainbow to more platforms than we ever could have possibly imagined.

What have been the greatest challenges that you have encountered in your career?

Our greatest challenge occurred in 2009 when the original PBS Reading Rainbow series reached its final chapter.  As the series ended, it wasn’t clear exactly how Reading Rainbow would play a part in the lives of young readers in the future.  While this seemed like the end of Reading Rainbow at the time, this bittersweet challenge resulted in a completely reimagined version of this beloved brand.  In 2012 LeVar Burton formed RRkidz with his business partner Mark Wolfe who hold the global rights to the brand through a partnership with series creator, WNED/Buffalo.  Since the launch of the Reading Rainbow App in 2012, over 20 million books and videos have been enjoyed by children and it has remained the #1 Educational App throughout this time. Bringing Reading Rainbow to tablets brought this beloved brand to a new generation of children, right where they are comfortable and familiar with technology.  Finally, the success of the original series and the App were driving forces behind the extremely successful Kickstarter campaign which will bring Reading Rainbow to even more children, underfunded schools and platforms than ever thought possible.

Do you believe leaders and innovators have certain qualities that they all share? If so, what?

We believe that a primary role of a leader is to deal with issues directly by determining what the best solution is and disseminating that out to an audience in order to gather support, followers, and the resources to make that solution a reality.  Also, leaders are able to listen to their supporters and make flexible decisions based on the feedback they are receiving.  Reading Rainbow identified a problem recently: one out of four children in the USA will grow up illiterate.  In addition, numerous studies revel that children who can’t read at grade level by the 4th grade are 400% more likely to drop out of high school.  As trusted leaders in education, we decided that we cannot afford to lose generations of children to illiteracy and that if we work together, we don’t have to.  Our leadership role was clearly established as 105,000 people joined together to make sure that this solution could become a reality.

How would you most like to change the world through your work?

We would like to continue to inspire new generations of children to love reading, as we have done for so many years, through the use of modern technology. We receive countless messages about how we have influenced the lives of people who are now parents themselves, professionals, thought leaders, politicians and every walk of life that now enjoy reading because of their experience with Reading Rainbow in the past.  These people attribute Reading Rainbow, and the support of influential parents and teachers, as the main factors which have helped them to become successful people that love to read.  It is our goal, in the immediate future, to truly bring Reading Rainbow to “Every Child, Everywhere” and continue our legacy for many future generations.

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