With Living Legend in Attendance, Westbrook Opens 30th Reading Room

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | mailbag@okcthunder.com

On the shelves that lined the perimeter of the room at Thelma Parks Elementary School stood some essential paperback books for children: Harry Potter, Holes, Flat Stanley and even Captain Underpants. Across the way, in an equally prominent shelf, were books about historical figures like Nelson Mandela, and influential, groundbreaking Americans like Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Wright Brothers.

For every student of every ilk, there was an option to spark the imagination, or to learn something previously undiscovered. Moments after Russell Westbrook cut the ribbon for the grand opening of his newest Reading Room, students who played hooky from their spring breaks scattered towards the shelves in search of their newest inspiration.

“I think it’s very, very important to learn about history and about other things as well,” Westbrook noted. “That’s why having these rooms and be able to make it fun where kids can read and see something exciting.”

One great American, an Oklahoman who has been integral to the state’s school system, was actually in attendance on Thursday morning. The namesake of the school that is now home to Westbrook’s 30th Reading Room, the 94-year-old Thelma Parks was there with bells on to witness the ribbon cutting. After spending 64 years in the Oklahoma school system, Parks was thrilled to see Westbrook further her legacy of investing in “children first”.

“This is one of the most significant, one of the most surprising, one of the most that I love, because it involves the kids,” Parks beamed. “Watching those little kids on the floor smiling, that means a lot to me. I can’t even express it. It just brings joy to my heart because he’s here.”

“It’s going to mean something to them for the rest of their lives,” Parks said. “The room is just beautiful. I know that this is going to have a tremendous impact on them.

Parks served as an elementary school teacher from 1951 to 1987 when she retired briefly before getting right back into the mix in a different capacity. In 1988, she was elected to the Oklahoma City Board of Education, where she served as Vice President from 1989-90 and President in 1990-91 and then from 1992-94. After that, Parks was elected to the Oklahoma State School Board’s Academy and to the Regional Vice President of the Black Caucus of the National School Boards Association. As a philanthropist, Parks established the Parks-Reece Teacher Education Scholarship at Langston University for students wishing to pursue a career in the teaching profession.

“That’s an honor to be here in her presence, the different things she’s done for not just the school system but for Oklahoma City,” Westbrook smiled.

Parks observed from across the room and soaked in the brand new learning and reading space, decked out in Thunder colors and Westbrook décor. Her eyes were locked in on Westbrook, in the center of a mob of kids who were bubbling about with new books in hand. Just a small fraction of the students that will enjoy these books were there on Thursday, but in just a few days’ time, the rest of their classmates will be back in the building ready to enjoy a massive surprise.

“All the kids were talking about how they can’t wait until the other kids come back to see it, which shows they’re very, very excited about the room,” Westbrook grinned. “That’s what I like to see.”

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