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Delaware’s Youngest CEO: P.S. du Pont Middle School Student Imani Henry

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DT: How did you come up with 100 Men Reading Day?
IH: I came up with the idea because, when I was younger, I had a very difficult time learning to read. I would cry myself to sleep every night because I didn’t know how to read. My mom and dad tried to help me, but nothing really seemed to work. After my mom was searching the Internet for a reading tutor, she found a program called Reading Assists. The program comes to your school and basically helps you improve your reading by doing cards and stuff. (Her mom, Stacey Henry, explains that Imani was born with a medical condition that went undiscovered until she was 5. The condition, which impaired her vision, halted her reading development. The reading program, as well as her parents, helped her to overcome the issue. So, Imani wanted to help others to enjoy reading as much as she does.)

DT: It must have been great to be able to read again. Your mom said you even read things that you weren’t supposed to.
IH: I wanted to read everything. Mail would come addressed “To the Parents of Imani Henry.” It had my name on it, so I just opened it.

DT: What were your favorite books?
IH: In second grade, it was Amelia Bedelia. Before that it was something about rub a dub dub in a tub … and Clifford the Big Red Dog and Dora the Explorer. I love animals.

DT: How did you get 100 Men Reading Day off the ground?
IH: My mom used to be very active in the community and do all of these social events. One day we were talking about things and I said, “Mommy, I want to be like you. I want to make a program for reading,” since I had a problem with reading. My favorite number was 100 at that time, so I was like, “Why don’t we make it 100 Men Reading and the men have to go out and read to the kids.” Because when my Daddy used to read to me, it would make me feel very special.

DT: You are the keynote speaker at the 100 Men Reading Day events. Do you prepare your own speech?
IH: My mom helped me type the first one, because at that time I didn’t really know how to type. (She was 10.) My mom keynote speaks sometimes, and I wanted to be like my mom. So when I was doing it, I was trying not to look at the paper. But sometimes I stumbled and I had to look at the paper. I did write most of it because, basically, it just tells my story. 

DT: Now 100 Men Reading Day is going national?
IH: Yes. That was my dream when I was 10. I was like, Mom, I want this to go worldwide, national. A couple months ago, we applied for the Peace First Prize. It’s supposed to be like a Nobel Peace Prize for kids. I was really excited about that because it was something I’ve never done before. I was looking at the website and they have the Peacemakers’ profiles, so everyone who made it as a finalist has a profile on there. (There were 2,000 finalists narrowed to a field of 50.)

DT: I hear that Gov. Markell presented you with a Literacy Month Proclamation. Do you enjoy hanging out with the governor?
IH: He makes me smile. He just makes me blush. I don’t know why. He’s like my dad. My dad makes me smile so much. When I need to smile I don’t smile, and then my dad comes around and I’m all grinning. When the governor comes around, he has these facial features that make me blush.

DT: Last June, you took 100 Men Reading Day statewide.
IH: It’s a lot of traveling. We take a car with books and T-shirts and bags. We head to Sussex and Kent counties. We have a reception the night before for the men who are going to read. On reading day, we usually have breakfast and then the men go out and read.

DT: You got to be a Girl Scout Youth CEO because you sold a lot of cookies?
IH: I sold the most cookies for Delaware for two years. The highest you can sell is 2,000 boxes of cookies.

DT: What’s your secret?
IH: My father has a business with a lot of customers and a lot of cars go by. It’s called Glass World Inc. It’s on 37th and Market in Wilmington. I have a cookie stand and I stand out there in the cold (it’s February), shivering. People stop and order their cookies. I try to keep warm by doing little dances. It’s my birthday month. I had to sell cookies on my birthday.

DT: Is it worth it?
IH: I’ve won two iPads, two iPod Touches, gift cards, gift certificates to the Girls Scouts stores, a free membership for the next year and all kinds of other stuff.

DT: You also run a jewelry business?
IH: Yes. There was a summer program (Chasing the Dream, run by the Delaware Money School) where you had to figure out what you wanted to sell. My cousin used to make jewelry and sell it when she was in college. I asked her to help me make jewelry. We went shopping for the beads and everything. We have really unique beads that we got from lots of stores and online. I made the jewelry and sold it. My mom models everything.

DT: But you also have another business?
IH: I went to a junior entrepreneurship camp last summer and I made flower pens and boy pens and I sell them. The boy pens were sort of a creation in progress because we had Army men and we didn’t know how to attach them to the pen. So we got some tape and taped them. We didn’t make as many boy pens as flower pens. You put the flower pens in a bouquet and set them on your desk. I was the president of my own group.

DT: Your mom says that 50 percent of what you earn goes back into the 100 Men Reading nonprofit.
IH: Yes. (She smiles.) I like money.

DT: What are you going to do for a career?
IH: I want to be a veterinarian and maybe an engineer. In STEM class, we were trying to design mechanical parts for dogs. They liked my idea, so they might do something with it.

DT: How has all of this changed your life?
IH: When I was 10, I didn’t really do anything much but go to school and do homework. Now people recognize the 100 Men Reading T-shirt when I wear it. Last weekend, we were at the Wilmington Riverfront and one person was very, very, energetic. They want to get involved. I’m pretty busy. I don’t really have time to watch YouTube anymore. What little time I do have, I’m usually doing homework or studying.   

» For more from the December issue, click here. 

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