Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary rededicates library with ribbon-cutting ceremony

On September 19, Principal Aliya Catanch-Bradley (2019 Neubauer Fellow/Cohort 5) hosted a rededication of Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School’s library space. The ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrated the many dedicated supporters, including the Philadelphia Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia, and Historic Fair Hill, who volunteered their time, efforts, funds, and resources to transform what was originally utilized as a classroom space.

“Six years ago, when I came to Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary, we had this beautiful space as a classroom,” said Catanch-Bradley. Working with the Philadelphia Alumnae Association of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority—“which adopted our school way before I was here, but I’m so glad to be the benefactor of such an adoption,” she said—Catanch-Bradley identified the need for the library space. 

“’We need a library for our school community,’” Catanch-Bradley recalled saying, noting the lack of access for her students. “’If we don’t send the books home, they won’t get the books,’” she said. “’Many are in homes where there are not books present. We need a library for our school community.’”

With Philadelphia Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. members providing initial support, Catanch-Bradley focused her efforts for the cause, building relationships and mobilizing resources, including campaigning with the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia. She forged a relationship with Dr. Linda Hansell, who took the Bethune Library to heart, donating generously financially, but also donating generously of her time and even bringing colleagues into the project. 

Catanch-Bradley was also connected with Dr. Jessica Kahn, a retired education professor at Chestnut Hill College, who brought on Historic Fair Hill, which now supports a librarian available three days a week for the school. 

“Liberation started with African Americans when we were able to formally learn to read and write,” said Catanch-Bradley. “Booker T. Washington said there were none too young and none too old to explore what it is to read. It’s a birthright we’ve been fighting for for generations, and here we are doing our part to liberate today.

“We know that learning is liberation,” said Catanch-Bradley. “We have children in North Philadelphia who have so many things that they are fighting against, they come to school as a place of safety, a place of comfort, a place to receive love, a place to be supported, and a chance to ensure that their future is better than sometimes what their current circumstances might be.”