Teen Read Week: Will Smith’s “Running & Reading” Kid Vid Endures

Will Smith running and readingSept. 8, 2016 Update For International Literacy Day, I’m reprising the award-winning Will Smith “Running and Reading: Key to Life” video as it still holds up even a decade later…

Presented at the Kids’ Choice awards back in 2005, Will Smith used his clout and credibility to rock the stage with literacy and life tips that exemplify how high profile influencers can use their platforms for positive messages that resonate and inspire. In our celebrity drenched culture, we could use more of this type of upstanding, reframing the narrative to topics that matter vs vapid values, gossip and raunch culture.

Here are a couple more posts for International Literacy Day to nudge ‘reluctant readers’ using marketing tactics and to choose diverse, thought-provoking lenses and approaches, from graphic novels to popular interests, all in an effort to just “Read, Kiddo, Read!”


Original Post Oct. 2008  THINK! Will Smith says, pointing to his brain. READ! Says his bright red tee that I snagged from his YouTube screenshot…

Teen Read Week 2008 kicks off today, with this year’s theme “Books That Bite.” I’ll be featuring Readergirlz planned ‘Nite Bites’ author chats for theYALSA and ALA Teen Read book week, but first I want to give a ‘shout out’ as the kids would say to Will Smith and his inspiring speech to kids a few years ago (when Shaping Youth was a glimmer in my mind’s eye)…Will Smith won the Kids’ Choice Awards ’05 and his amped up excitement about reading and running as “the key to life” made me see how the power of media and ‘celebrity fixation’ could be flipped on its ear to change the channel of influence toward HEALTHY cues for kids.

I remember thinking, “whoa, that’s the kind of energy we need to harness to shift the momentum into POSITIVE media, fighting fire with fire in a flamethrower use of his fame and starpower to get kids READING (and running!) revved up in ‘pursuit of happiness’ (won’t misspell it even for the movie’s sake, sorry)

His READING-RUNNING video is still up on YouTube with about 250,000 hits where he imparts the value of the dual ‘key to life’ philosophic sound bites set to DJ Jazzy Jeff’s “For Da Love of Da Game” along with the haunting refrain that has become my guiding light, “Love what you do…do what you love.”

Will’s reading message may not be a ‘book that bites’ in Teen Reads theme or RGZ Night Bites vampire visuals, but it IS a media message that pierces through the clutter and sucks into your soul.

Running + reading = the key to life.

In ‘Simon says—Will Smith says’ mode, here’s his youth appeal to kids as to the whys…


He talks about the little voice inside your head when you feel like your lungs are gonna pop and you want to give up, tired and exhausted and hurting, like you can’t go on…

If you can “rise above that voice, and defeat that person inside you” to move forward,  you’ll be served well by the triumph of tenacity and hard work to give you the coping skills and resiliency needed as a ‘key to life.’ (ok, those last words were mine not his, but that was the gist)


“There IS no new problem that you can have…with parents, with school, with a bully, with anything that someone hasn’t already solved or written about in a book…”

It’s a welcome dose of much-needed perspective, so I won’t quibble on the accuracy.

He’s breaking the cycle of self-absorption and myopic despair that all too often feels ‘new’ with teens, by citing historic precedent of the scads and gazillions of people AND books that have come long before us all. That’s rational, level-headed reasoning that’s often absent from the hypefest of media drama served fresh daily, from news to Nickelodeon. Bravo, Will.

He uses reading as a calming, comforting conduit for angst-ridden teens to find solutions inside the pages, as well as reassurance in the concept of historic precedent and challenges overcome.

He re-establishes that it’s all ‘far from new’ in the cultural zeitgeist, encouraging kids to seek camraderie within the inter-connected weavings and words of authors who have put pen to page many years before some of these adolescents were even born.

I love the way he positions the hope and promise of possibility within the pages. His ebullience almost spills out of him with seemingly old-fashioned words of wisdom, encouraging hard work, persistence and perspective. Gosh…who knew, eh?

So, welcome to Teen Read Week, and thanks Will Smith, for kicking off this one for me with a message as relevant for kids today as it was when you pumped that silly orange blimp in the air with winning glee!

More on Teen Read Week tomorrow with our friends at Readergirlz and their vampy/campy/fun “Night Bites” to go with the 2008 “Books That Bite” theme and live chats with authors on their site. Meanwhile…

Vote for your 2008 Teen Top Ten, (through Saturday at midnight!) help choose the theme for 2009 Teen Read Week…and enter your Teen Read Week events in the Best Teen Read Week Celebration Contest, courtesy of AdLit.org (Adolescent Literature; Teen Read Week Nonprofit Supporter), Mirrorstone Books (Teen Read Week Corporate Sponsor) and YALSA! (Young Adult Library Services Association)

I’ve gotta say, even though ALA and YALSA have all kinds of prizes and incentives to kick off Teen Read Week today…

Will Smith nailed it in his video message to the millions of kids watching…

Reading is a reward in itself.

And it may not the ‘the key to life,’ but it’s certainly a major chapter. “Love what you do, and do what you love…” Off to read…

Shaping Youth’s Related Resources

Shaping Youth Interviews YALSA President for Teen Read Week

Operation Teen Book Drop Supports YA Lit With Street Teams

31 Flavorite Authors for Teens: Readergirlz Teams With YALSA

Teens Shout Out A Rebel Yell for Banned Books Year Round

YA Books Become a New Media Experience

Ideas For World-Changing: Go Overboard!

YALSA Book Lists & Book Awards

ALA: Best Books for Young Adults

ALA: Fabulous Films for Young Adults

ALA: Great Graphic Novels for Teens

Visual Credit: Will Smith photo: Getty Images, Readergirlz.com Night Bites



  1. Funny. Today, my 9-year-old son had a friend over for the day, and we planned a hike. Before heading out, we happened to discover that his friend hadn’t read a book in “a year” and that he wasn’t interested in reading at all.

    My son took that as a challenge. He brought one of his favorite Calvin & Hobbes for the car ride to the hike, and just started reading aloud. They were both cracking up in the back seat. And, I suspect C&H influenced some of their shenanigans in the woods.

    Well, I can’t say we pushed any personal boundaries – on the hike (actually, I ended up napping) but I’m hoping my son helped his friend push through whatever was keeping him from wanting to read.

  2. Thanks for the note on that Sandra, as one who was a huge ‘Peanuts’ book reader at age 8 or so, (well, and my older brother’s ‘Mad Magazine’ too) I have to say adults ‘forget’ that ANY kind of reading that gets kids going in that direction daily comics or otherwise is a positive imho… In fact, I talked to the S.F. Libararians at the Richard Louv event, and they were mentioning the grown of manga as a huge YA force field, otherwise known as ‘graphic novels’…

    I took my daughter to the Cartoon Art Museum in S.F. too, which is always a fun cultural bellwether for teen humor too…

    More soon, still want to do the Disney/Politics post linking back to your humor piece; loved that…just have a couple of ‘date sensitive’ events, including the UNAFF and School Nutrition Week all happening at once this coming week (Teen Read Week too, of course!) and some Halloween green media finds…

  3. Thanks so much, Amy, for getting the word out about Night Bites! Yay Teen Read Week!

  4. I’m so behind this week getting this grant out, I hope I don’t get lost in the shuffle and miss all the TRW fun! (Not only is it ‘Teen Read week’ it’s ‘School Nutrition Week’ AND…the launch of the kids’ pick elections (in Nickelodeon and Dizzywood) AND the UNAFF film festival ramp up to next week’s soiree as we host Amy Kalafa and her film screening here locally. whew.

    Busy, busy…More soon.

  5. I have always believed that my own passion for reading began with my dad’s newspaper that appeared daily at the breakfast table. I loved stretching out on the floor on Sunday afternoons and gobbling up the front pages, Dear Abby, the feature pieces. Especially the comics and ESPECIALLY Peanuts. Comics can not be underestimated for their appeal and power to encourage reading.

    I am thankful to have two avid little readers in my house. In fact, I wrote about this a days ago in my blog:


    And would love to get your thoughts on it!


  6. Tress, I just left this windy comment on your blog…Sorry to be a comment-blog-hog, but as usual, I have much to say!!!

    Omg. That’s coming with me to the School Board meeting tonight, where our entire city has made the news with media coverage of the absurdity of turning school into an admin check list of superfluous snackerels of data…

    In our case, they’re using our district (and kids!) as guinea pigs to shift to a “1-2-3-4” grading “standards-based” grading system that will do away with A-F traditions in pursuit of the almighty ‘3’ which covers a core competence of benchmarks ranging in the 80-100% realm. (yah, that’s right a ‘B is as good as an A’ whether kids are in the lower or higher end of the learning rubric they achieve the same score)

    Um…hello? In real life 80 is not 100. And ‘good enough’ in a lump sum game is how you create bulk processing, not exquisite morsels. (pardon the food reference but I’ve got the Two Angry Moms documentary to get junk crud out of school lunches and we’re hosting filmmaker Amy Kalafa on Monday)

    Teachers are livid that they have to have another absurd rubric to follow, and wonder how it will translate to college apps and transfer schools…sheesh.

    Time for a Howard Beale moment, dear parent activists…

  7. AND…as usual I veered off in a different direction and didn’t answer your initial READING question properly, so posted a second comment too…

    Here it is:

    The reading policy you describe imho, is merely a snapshot in a much greater problem with our institutional learning! When you eliminate the fluidity and joy of devouring well-written reading (we’ve all had those ‘can’t put it down’ experiences, kids deserve them too!) and carve reading into sound bites and to-do lists in check off chore-mode, you’ve essentially taken the richness of telling a story and chopped it into a post-it note passage. Gee, we wonder why we have this attention span deficit and channel surfing of the mind going on with kids where constructing a coherent, well-formed thought is squished into a text SMS.

    p.s. Ironically, I had your blog up in my Firefox tabs on my to-contact list today, as I realize I forgot to answer your comment from an old post I came across when I was writing a fresh one yesterday! In fact, I’d even clicked on your avatar to enlarge the image as it looked like someone had drawn an eyeglasses and beard on your face in graffiti mode from afar, ah, aging eyeballs…what fun. 😉

  8. wonderful read, keep up the great work. more writers like you are needed on the net

Speak Your Mind