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Insert Money, Receive Book: Heal The Hood Foundation launches comic book vending machines

LaDell Beamon and Martheus Wade are the creative forces behind the Evolution Comic Series. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/Tri-State Defender)

The Heal the Hood Foundation of Memphis is championing a novel approach to curb youth crime and boost literacy with the launch of “Heroes of Literacy” Book Vending Machines.

The initiative, unveiled during a press event at Belle Forest Community School on May 2, features vending machines stocked with locally written comic books tailored to resonate with young readers — “Evolution Comic Series.”

LaDell Beamon, the foundation’s founder, described the effort as a transformative tool to shape how young people see themselves amid challenging times.

“When I was coming up comic books weren’t accessible like they are now,” Beamon said. “I mean, back then, you had comic books, but it was for another audience. Now, people can see comic books with people that look like us and things that we can identify with.”

Beamon teamed up with Memphis artist, Martheus Wade to create the comics. Together, they filled the pages with references that Memphis kids would get.

“So you see these kids being able to interact in worlds and look into the books,” Beamon said. “And they see places in Memphis that have been digitized and animated by our illustrator. So we’re excited. That would make me excited to see a world that I could exist in.”

Eager reader! (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/Tri-State Defender)

The comic series, highlighted in the machines, includes characters and scenarios that young Memphians can easily relate to, tackling issues like bullying and gang violence.

“You know, coming up, it was always kind of boring when you would see a thick novel, and you’re like, I really don’t want to read a whole lot of words,” Beamon said. “Having gifted people coming together to tell (visual) stories that make sense and attract kids, it attracts you to reading.

“And so you’re learning because of that excitement and not just thinking about how to learn because it’s something I need to do,” he continued. “You’re learning because you want to, because the interest is created.”

Shelby County Commissioner Erika Sugarmon helped finance the literacy vending machines and was on hand for the ribbon cutting ceremony. (Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/Tri-State Defender)

The project was funded by Shelby County Commissioner Erika Sugarmon, who emphasized the importance of changing the narrative for Memphis youth.

“Most of the time when you’re in the city here lately, you know, you see a lot of flash-ups of kids stealing cars and all these different things going on,” Beamon noted. “But what we’re doing today is we’re putting a focus back on reading and making it exciting.”

Beamon also shared personal anecdotes about the impact of early exposure to creative arts on his life, reinforcing the importance of such initiatives.

“Children are a reflection of what they see, you know, it’s just a reality for us,” he said. “And so if the images that are in front of our kids are always bad, if it’s always bleak, it’s dismal.

Insert money, receive comic. The new vending machine at Belle Forest Elementary. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/Tri-State Defender)

Looking to the future, Beamon envisions these vending machines as ubiquitous as snack machines, present everywhere from hospitals to churches, fostering a widespread culture of reading and positivity. “Once you start seeing it and becoming familiar, it becomes more contagious,” he asserted.

The initiative has already garnered attention beyond Memphis, hinting at possible future expansions and adaptations, including film adaptations highlighting local talent and stories.

With these efforts, the Heal the Hood Foundation hopes to inspire a new generation of heroes, not just in comic books but in real life.

“It’s about exposure. When you’re not exposed to a life of doing what is right, it’s easy for you to accept what’s wrong as what’s right,” he said.

“And so this is what this is about: It’s about really being able giving the kids a definition of what’s right and what’s wrong. What is heroism? What does it looks like? What does being a villain looks like? And I guarantee you that if a kid understands what a villain is from the time that they’re little to the time they become an adult, the things that represents a villain, that villains are just messing it up for everybody, they’ll make a different choice.

“And so that’s what we want to do for the city of Memphis, to create less villains and more heroes.”


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