On February 22, officials from Audible, the mayor of Newark, representatives of the Newark public school system, and students from East Side High School celebrated Audible’s decision to provide 15,000 Newark high school students and teachers with free Audible memberships for a year, including 12 credits to download and own any of the 400,000 titles in Audible’s library of digital audiobooks. They called the initiative Project Listen Up.
The tablets were also preloaded with 150 free titles selected by Newark educators.
During the event, some 2,000 students at East Side High School received the packages from Audible. Prior to the distribution of the tablets, the students heard comments from dignitaries.
Audible founder and CEO Don Katz told the students, who were assembled in the high school auditorium, that there are lots of young people from Newark who work at Audible as interns and employees. He told the students that the company invented the first digital audio player: five years before the iPod, “if you’ve heard of that.”
Audible is about “listening to stories, listening for ideas,” and letting yourself be carried away by adventures, Katz told the students. Every day people listen to Audible content for an average of 107 minutes. “It’s a really exciting, addictive experience.” The idea was: Why not use the time you spend on a bus or waiting around a field to listen to an audiobook? “You could be reading.”
Words are power, he told the students. It’s the way people get a job. It’s the way people succeed in college. Words are also music, he added. Katz said that he hoped the students would explore the words of Mayor Ras J. Baraka’s father, Amiri Baraka, a great American poet and author of fiction and essays.
Don’t think of this gift of spoken words read by accomplished actors as something you must only use for homework, he implored. Find something that you can get into “on your own terms,” and then give it at least two hours, because that’s when you’ll get it. “Go deep and explore it,” he advised.
“You should be excited about this gift,” Baraka told the students, because Newark is becoming a smart city. “Soon you’ll be seeing kiosks all over the city. Apart from getting the kiosks up, we have over 20 miles of dark fiber underground in our city,” an enticement for tech companies to move there. All kinds of tech companies are being incubated in Newark, some by Don Katz and some by other partners, he noted.
Innovative companies are moving to Newark, and you “get an interface with that kind of technology through these audiobooks that Audible is giving to all our high school students for free,” said Baraka. The teachers and students are going to use the gift to help make Newark a tech city and prepare Newark’s young people for the direction in which the city is moving, he added.
A. Robert Gregory, interim superintendent of the Newark Public Schools, said that East Side High School epitomizes the transformation the city has been able to make in education. “Fifteen years ago, this school was a very different place,” he told those gathered. He praised Mario Santos, the principal of East Side High, for his leadership.
Gregory then said that Katz and Baraka want to make sure that everyone in the city has the right to self-determination and prosperity. He lauded Audible for deciding to locate its headquarters in Newark and for making a commitment to Newark’s residents and students.
“The best way for Audible to celebrate its 10th anniversary was to give out gifts to students. You are the recipients of these gifts that will ultimately allow us to fast-forward this city and move into the future and transform the realities of our citizens,” he said.