What Exactly Constitutes an Emergency?
According to the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress, only 18 percent of African-American fourth-graders were proficient in reading. Another way to word that is that 82% of African-American fourth graders were not proficient in reading. This begs the question of what is the cause of this alarming statistic? Our babies are smart, bright and capable so there has to be external causes. Well, there are a litany of factors such as failing schools that are poorly funded, understaffed, lacking equipment, heat and air while under immense pressure to ensure students pass a battery of standardized tests under the aforementioned conditions. There is also the issue of children carrying stress from home and a lack of parental and family involvement (for a plethora of reasons). We certainly can’t forget the reality of negative stigmas placed upon African-American children and their capabilities which leads to overwhelming teacher biases. There are teachers who will not challenge our babies and give them 100% effort simply because they falsely believe the children are not capable or worthy. Finally, there is a lack of interest. School curricula and school library books as well as public library books often do not provide topics and literature that are of interest to African-American children. Even more damaging, they are being provided with books that do not represent them and affirm their experiences and their place in society. This sounds like an emergency to me and let me tell you why.
I could go on and on explaining how the above transgressions came to be but for brevity’s sake I’m just going to focus on the urgency. I ask that you name one positive life goal or aspiration in which you can be successful without the ability to read well. Name one day in your life in which reading wasn’t required for you to navigate through your day. If I’m reaching, I sincerely welcome your correction. Our youth are being left behind. This part of the narrative is being swept underneath the rug. That proverbial rug has become ridiculously lumpy and toxic with the filth of neglect. We are doing a disservice to our children by not rolling up our sleeves and putting our collective heads together to clean up this mess. As a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, mentor, neighbor, citizen, this should resonate with you. If you don’t care because you have a connection and heart, perhaps this will jar you. According to the National Adult Literacy Survey, 70% of all incarcerated adults cannot read at a 4th grade level, “meaning they lack the reading skills to navigate many everyday tasks or hold down anything but lower paying jobs. Crime that occurs within African-American communities is not inherent to Black people. It is a result of numerous contributing factors and low-literacy rates is one of them. So if you don’t care about the futures of African-American children and what they deserve, perhaps you care about how neglecting this issue can affect your neighborhood and your personal safety.
If you understand this is a state of emergency, one of the most simple and immediate actions you can take is to ensure that the children in your home, community, church, mosque etc., are being read to as soon as they can hear. That means from birth. Reading must become routine. It must become part of the fun. It has to replace some video game time. Learning to read cannot be the sole responsibility of the public school system. Remember that list of issues the public school system is grappling with above? Yeah, so we have to step in. Improved literacy has numerous benefits such as increased self-confidence and self-esteem, economic growth, reduction in poverty and crime and an increase civic engagement to name a few. Our babies deserve that and much more.
The reality is that the African-American community, despite our resilience and excellence, is fighting many struggles that were forced upon us. I understand that realization can be extremely overwhelming and people often don’t know where to start. I simply ask that you begin to buy and check out culturally affirming books for the children in your life and read with and to them on a regular basis. Our goals at Clever Communities In Action are to keep you abreast of this issue and to continue to advocate for closing the literacy gap that exists with African-American youth. We are expanding our scope as we work to fill more Title I elementary school libraries with books that interest our babies and teach them about who they are while building their self-esteem. We are implementing new programs. It takes a Village to raise these beautiful children and I hope that you will join ours and create your own. Together, we will make a dent. I look forward to hearing from you!