By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Dressed in red and olive-green colored fabrics and designer boots, you feel Vanesse Lloyd-Sgambati’s presence when she walks into a room.

“I am very passionate and I live my life to the fullest,” says Lloyd-Sgambati, ” and I am not afraid to dare.”

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The Philadelphia native and Temple University grad discovered this “passion” philosophy at an early age through reading. The interest arose when her grade school ran “duck and cover” drills during the 1950’s. When she asked a teacher what “Russia wanted with her”- her teacher encouraged her to pick up a book. It lit a fire in Sgambati that grew stronger.

“Books for me have always been a sense of comfort,” she says, “sometimes I’ll be so engrossed in a book that when I look up, I’ve forgotten where I am.”

It was in the pages of books that Sgambati first explored Paris, Rome, London and cities in Africa. The visions she imagined in those pages eventually lead to a fairytale life that included living in Italy and meeting a Pope.

“I was the belle of the ball in Rome,” says Lloyd-Sgambati, who married an Italian man and worked in Rome as a fashion journalist and society columnist.

Her living abroad also inspired extensive travel across the world. But Sgambati never forgot her roots. A former associate producer for KYW-TV’s Evening Magazine, she eventually launched a career as a publicist. In 1992, she founded the African-American Children’s Book Project and launched the first African-American Children’s Book fair.

“It was like a cold, frosty day, like the beginning of a novel,” she says, smiling, “we expected about 50 people to show up, but 250 came out that day.”

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(provided by AACBP)

(provided by AACBP)

Today, the book fair attracts roughly 4,000 attendees. It features in children’s book authors and illustrators and, thanks to sponsors, provides free books to kids and other organized activities. What makes the three-hour event unique is that it is one of the few places where children can go to see such a large and wide variety of books featuring people of color.

“When you see yourself in a book, you see the possibilities of what you can do,” says Lloyd-Sgambati, “[children of color] also begin to relate and understand that they come from a culture of people who have been contributing to this country from day one.”

But Lloyd Sgambati’s work goes beyond the book fair; she is also an advocate in publishing. She brings book cafes to schools and fearlessly pushes publishers and book sellers to diversify. The work earned Sgambati honors from Philadelphia City Council earlier this year.

“They have an obligation to have multicultural books in their stores,” she says, “we must make sure that we have books that reflect our image.”

Lloyd-Sgambati passion is clear — she wants to ensure that when children look in these pages…they will see themselves so they, like her, can create a life that many only read about.

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