American literacy pioneers, Ruth Colvin age 105, and Geneva Hayden age 89, meet up at the Light a Candle for Literacy Parade & Book Festival 2022 at Brighton Academy Middle School in Syracuse on September 10. Photo by Mike Greenlar | The Central Current.

The Light a Candle for Literacy Parade and Children’s Book Festival is back after a hiatus and organizers want the Central New York community to know it.

The event, to encourage reading and learning in a city with high rates of childhood poverty, was held on Sept. 10. Organizers have already booked next year’s date.

The parade, beginning at Beauchamp Library and ending at Brighton Academy, was led by grand marshals Ruth Colvin and Geneva Hayden, pioneers in the world of literacy internationally.

Hayden, a longtime Southside community advocate, founded Light a Candle for Literacy, a volunteer-run after-school program which serves children in kindergarten to 5th grade.

Colvin is the founder of Literacy Volunteers of America, now called ProLiteracy.

They were joined by Syracuse children along with librarians, writers and illustrators. That included Susan Keeter, who illustrated the book “An Apple for Harriet Tubman” and children’s book author Bruce Coville.

The event was founded in 2005 to increase awareness about literacy and the importance of reading. It stopped after 10 years, but Southside community members worked together to bring it back again for the first time this year.

Onondaga County and the city of Syracuse issued a proclamation declaring Sept. 10, 2022 “Light a Candle for Literacy Day.” The Syracuse Fire Department and Mayor Ben Walsh marched in the parade.

Sen. John Mannion, who secured $10,000 in state funding to reboot the annual festival, marched in the parade and toured the festival.

The festival included exhibitors from Upstate University Hospital, Early Childhood Alliance, Onondaga County Health Department, the Museum of Science and Technology, Lead Poison Control, Le Moyne College, and SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. It featured crafts and activities for kids, performances and games.

Ed Kochian, committee member for the event, called the event a tremendous success.

“We have a city that leads the country in childhood poverty and what are we doing about it? Here’s this tremendous grassroots effort,” Kochian said. “We want people to know about it and join us next year.”

He said the committee set Sept. 9, 2023 as its next parade date.

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Julie McMahon is editor-in-chief of Central Current. She's lived and worked in Syracuse as a reporter, editor and professor of journalism for more than a decade. Contact Julie at