By W. Thomas Smith Jr.

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Richland Reads – a partnership between the Richland County Sheriff’s Dept. (RCSD) and Richland Library (formerly the Richland County Public Library) – began in Sept. as an outreach initiative in which RCSD deputies are now reading children’s books to students online. Many of the books are provided by Richland Library.

The initiative began Sept. 23 with Sheriff Leon Lott’s video-recorded reading of “Victor Stops the School Bully,” a children’s book co-authored by world champion martial artist Keith Vitali (formerly of Columbia) and his third-grade grandson Sam Oates. Lott was presented the book in mid-August by Vitali’s long-time friend and fellow S.C. Black Belt Hall of Fame inductee Mike Genova. And what began as “Storytime with Sheriff Lott” quickly evolved into a regular reading program featuring different deputies reading different books which RCSD officials say will continue indefinitely.

“We will publish new reading videos each Wednesday at least through the end of the year,” said Deputy Sara Blann, RCSD public information officer. “We’ve already received a variety of children’s books from the Richland Library, and they are all wonderful books that may be easily read in one sitting.”

The books read are written for elementary school-aged children, and according to Blann, will address topics and themes of interest to children and their parents.

“Richland Reads is a great ongoing program,” said Lott, who regularly visits elementary schools across central S.C. and reads to children as part of a community bridge-building and literary encouragement effort. “Reading to kids has always been one of my favorite outreach initiatives, but that has largely been put on hold due to the pandemic with so many schools having been closed or with limited days and hours. But combining our online capabilities with the creative efforts of those serving in our RCSD public information office and now the Richland Library we can virtually reach anyone.”

The initial online book-reading by Sheriff Lott was published Sept. 23 [See –]. The second book, “Don’t Push the Button” by Bill Cotter, was read by Master Deputy Shawn Powers [See –].

– W. Thomas Smith Jr. is a special deputy with the Richland County Sheriff’s Dept.


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