As a former elementary educator and professor, Rebecca Dove started her educational technology company, Pennez, LLC, to address illiteracy and the lack of stories written by and about people of color. Since its inception in 2014, the website has gained traction and interest from parents and educators alike. “Our goal is to, of course, help all youth read, but our focus is to ensure that we’re intentional about curating content for youth of different black and brown communities,” says Dove.
When she launched Pennez, it was strictly a grassroots effort funded by grants she hustled to secure. Her initial foray was during a start-up education weekend here in the metro. “It was one of my first exposures to business and pitching—and that’s where I pitched a concept around illiteracy,” she says. “I focused on the need for people of color and characters in books and comic books, as well as addressing the reading and literacy gap.”
More grants followed and Dove took what she learned as she met with educators and programming leaders across the country to learn about the achievement gap and diversity in literature. “Literacy is really the full gamut of reading, writing, speaking, and listening,” she says. “Right now, we provide resources for educators and parents. We blog about different wordsmiths and provide book lists and topics on helping inform parents about different diversity issues and reading information.”
From book fairs to literacy symposiums, Dove was determined to get the Pennez name out there. It’s served her well, as the organization is poised to launch their newest venture early this year, a pro-active web application called Read 2 Think, which will help parents inspire their kids’ love of reading. “The most rewarding thing is having the ability to be a platform that lays out why assessments and stories and authors of color need to be highlighted,” she says. “Additionally, as Pennez has grown, bringing more visibility to the individuals who are not being noticed—authors of colors—that’s another rewarding aspect.” Another pro? Being virtual has allowed Dove to make an impact from Coffeyville to China and beyond.
Speaking of Pennez’s name, Dove says it’s inspired from the Spanish word “pensar” which means to think. She says the goal of the content produced or services provided is to inspire children to think as they read.
Dove was quick to point out that along her journey, she’s been surrounded by plenty of champions, including award-winning local author Christine Taylor Butler. “She’s written over 75 children’s books,” says Dove. “She gave a lot of clarity, feedback, and mentorship.” And Dove mentions a slew of UMKC students who are working as savvy interns. “That’s been amazing to help us get a bigger foothold,” she says. Dove’s professional circle, meanwhile, is a who’s who of female founders who have attended networking events, shared resources, worked on pitch competitions and grant applications, and the list goes on. “Girl power helps in our conversations and our bond and hindsight with one another,” she says.
For now, Dove is excited to see what 2021 brings. And she wants as many people to sign up to be a trial user for the organization’s ambitious new Read 2 Think program and give as much feedback as possible. “At the end of the day, I want people to know Pennez is a platform to educate parents, educators, and provide resources about reading and literacy tools and services,” she says. “Our goal is to ensure that children of different cultural backgrounds are understood and connect with those stories.”