Westbrook’s philanthropic organization partnered with Scholastic Book Fairs to open “Russell’s Reading Rooms.” At Manhattan Place and Parent, the rooms will aim to help students reading below grade level catch up. The rooms showed no Oklahoma City ties, but displayed Westbrook’s L.A. past with fresh coats of blue and gold paint, UCLA logos and life-size Westbrook decals.
At 75th Street, two kids helped Westbrook read a book called "I Like Myself" out loud. Then, Westbrook asked if the students had any questions.
The kids wanted to know what Westbrook’s favorite book is ("Missing Since Monday" by Ann M. Martin), whether he is friends with
At almost every turn, Westbrook turned his interactions into pep talks on education. He told the children how school was a priority for him and "sports always came second." At Manhattan Place, he chided a student who was supposed to be in class but had lingered in the hall to catch a glimpse of the star. The kids at Frank D. Parent were too shy to ask questions, so their moms and dads prompted Westbrook to get some points across.
Lilieth El was a teacher at 75th Street Elementary for 20 years, and she taught Westbrook in the fourth grade. She remembered him as a quiet, respectful student who loved to play in the yard.
"They know about the unpleasant things: people who get shot in their front yards," El said. "So Russell coming back is like saying, 'There's a world out there, where you can really be famous, where you can really do what you want to do.' ...When someone comes back it says, 'I have made it, and so can you.'"