Why do you think I'm here?” Kevin Hart asked his rapt audience. The crowd happened to be a room filled with kids at the Thomas Jefferson Recreation Center in East Harlem, New York.
“I think you came here to make us laugh,” replied one little tyke.
While the actor, comedian, philanthropist, and bestselling author certainly inspired a lot of smiles, he had a more pressing message. “The biggest, the most important reason why I’m here is because I care,” Hart said. “And another reason is to show you that your dreams can come true. I'm a product of a dream.”
This past summer, The Children’s Place teamed up with Hart to open a new community learning locale at Thomas Jefferson Recreation Center in Harlem. The center is filled with 2,000 new children’s books from ThriftBooks, new furnishings and empowering wall murals with sayings like “We believe children have the power to change the world.” It's a place where kids and families can read, explore and play.
Part of its 2022 Back-to-School Campaign, the center is the first of ten community centers that The Children’s Place will be opening across the country. “We hope that these spaces bring endless learning laughter and a love of reading this back to school season and for many years to come,” said Maegan Markee from The Children’s Place before introducing Hart.
At the ribbon cutting ceremony Hart spoke of the importance of having learning centers to support children to nurture their dreams. “It incentivizes kids to create, be active, to dream. And more important to actually activate their thinking to make them understand that they can achieve the unachievable.”
The event also featured New York State Assemblymember, Edward Gibbs, New York City Parks and Recreation Department Commissioner, Sue Donoghue, Councilmember Diana Ayala and Barbara Hagen from ThriftBooks, the organization that donated many books to the center. The grand opening also included games for the kids along with a Children's Place school bus stocked with backpacks filled with back-to-school items and school supplies provided by BIC including pencils, markers and more. “East Harlem kids will have the opportunity to learn in a safe space with 2,000 books,” said Assemblymember Gibbs. “That's 2,000 opportunities for growth, adventure and empowerment. 2000 chances for our kids to strive.”
Hart told the crowd that he grew up in what he considered the “bottom” in North Philadelphia. “What some people don't think is in an arms reach, I now know is untrue,” he shared. “If you dream it, you can achieve it. And I want kids to see people like myself, see my level of care and see that I am an added push to your level of brilliance.”
After the ribbon cutting Hart read from his illustrated children’s book, Marcus Makes a Movie.
Before reading a passage from the book Hart explained to the children how the embellished story is based upon his life. “Marcus is a kid who had a dream and so many people kept telling him, “no,” but he didn't like that word,” said Hart. “In life a lot of people tell you, “no,” and will say “you can't do. You can't be. There's no way. You will never…” And they allow that to affect them and their future. But Marcus didn't do that.”
As Hart shared, Marcus used all the “no’s” as fuel to make his dream superhero movie. Just as Marcus did, Hart advised the kids: “believe in your dream, believe in yourself and do what people don't think you can do.”