“I read my way out of poverty long before I worked my way out of poverty.”
Svante L. Myrick was sworn into office and became the City of Ithaca’s youngest Mayor and first Mayor of color on January 1, 2012. The Mayor has a degree in Communication from Cornell University and is a recipient of the John F. Kennedy New Frontier Award, which honors Americans under the age of 40 who are changing their communities and the country with their commitment to public service. He also serves as Director of People for the American Way Foundation’s Youth Leadership Programs. Mayor Myrick credits his strong work ethic to his single mom who raised him and his three siblings.
Mayor Myrick’s recommended books:
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Giver by Lois Lowry
The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X
Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
As the third of four siblings being raised by a single mom and his grandparents in a small Upstate New York town, books were a way for young Myrick “to travel the world without leaving my room.” At an early age, Brian Jacques’ The Redwall Series captured his imagination. “The meals in that book made me hungry!” he says. “I’d be eating sugar toast and really imagining custards and jams.”
Myrick describes being blown away by The Hobbit while home sick with the flu in third grade. “It felt like this author created a whole universe just for me.” Of course, later he realized just how much of a universe author Tolkien really had created!
The adventure stories that attracted a young Myrick led to books with a different sense of adventure--that of self-discovery. As a teenager he read authors like W.E.B. Dubois and Malcolm X as a way to understand who he was and his racial identity. “I’m still drawn to books about people discovering something about themselves or the world,” he says.
Barack Obama’s Dreams From My Father is a personal favorite. “I truly believe, had he never become President, Obama would still be known for that book,” says Myrick.
“I think what ties a lot of the books I like together is a sense of adventure,” he continues. “Not just in the adventure books when I was young but books about people discovering something about themselves or the world. History, historical fiction, biographies. Books about someone who’s actually trying to change something.”
Myrick, of course, has been recognized for being a changemaker in Ithaca from the time we was elected as mayor of the city at the age of 24. Like the characters in the books he most loves, he has a strong sense of purpose. Much of that purpose throughout his life so far has centered on support for children and youth, and that’s where his vision for Ithaca Is Books centers as well.
“I would hope all children in Ithaca are exposed through books to a world that is bigger than their current circumstances,” he says, “and to stories that help them imagine the ways and find the courage to go out and do that.”
“But that’s only half of it,” he says. The community bears responsibility for helping those imagine those ways, too. “One, families need financial security so they have time to read to their kids and resources for books. And two, kids need to have those opportunities.”
Myrick has confidence that Ithaca can continue to be a beacon for future readers. “We’re a very nerdy town,” he says proudly. He does, after all, own a bookstore--along with 800 other citizens of the town he governs. “They haven’t invented a medium yet that’s better than a book.”