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The Road to fREADom
The saying goes, “if you want to hide something from a black person, put it in a book.” It seems as if we live in the United States of Amnesia, because we fail to remember that over 200 years ago it was illegal for black people to read. You would be maimed or lynched, because the oppressor knew that education was the death of mental slavery. If the psychological chains were broken, the physical chains would be eradicated.
If we fail to know our history, then we’re on the the fast track to repeating it. There is a new Jim Crow which is enslaving minds and repealing the advancements made by our predecessors. The connection of illiteracy and incarceration is more than just an education issue, it has social justice ramifications.
It’s critical that our young black males become proficient in reading. According to Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu, “the reading scores of third graders are being used as a gauge, to predict the number of prisons that are built.”
Frederick Douglass declared “it’s easier to build strong (boys) children than to repair broken men.” There is no conspiracy to destroy black men, but there is a conspiracy to destroy black boys. There is an increasing overrepresentation of black youth and men in prison. The prison system is becoming younger, as 60% of incarcerated juveniles are under 18 years of age. Approximately 80% of prisoners are void of a high school diploma or GED. The choices are narrowing, it’s either education or incarceration. If we teach our young men to read, we have an 80% chance of keeping them out of jail.
There is much work to do, when our young people know more about Waka Flocka Flame than they do about W.E.B. Du Bois. We can’t sit back and let BET, MTV, and PlayStation 3 raise our children. Parents have to start reading to their children. The average pre-literacy exposure for black children is 250 hours, but white children have 3,000 hours of pre-literacy exposure. Our black children are behind in a race that hasn’t started, because basic skills are lacking.
Only 12% of 8th grade boys are proficient in reading, which results in many of them being passed through school into a prison system. We must break the cycle of this school-to-prison pipeline which comes at the crux of literacy.
Hosea 4:6 is an ardent call to the fact that our “people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” Our world is an ocean of information, yet people are drowning in ignorance.
Improving the education of black boys, begins with young males being taught by black men. Our churches must offer academic enrichment programs, whether or not they are government funded. We must keep our libraries and schools open. It’s time to step up, we need mentors, literacy advocates, parents, and strong males to invest in the lives of our youth.
Our boys must know that prison is not a rights of passage. Instead of jail they can attend Cornel and Yale, not prison but Princeton! Let’s motivate, encourage, enhance, and work to push our black boys to succeed.
Eddie Connor was born in Southfield, Michigan but grew up in Kingston, Jamaica. Eddie has a Master’s Degree in Education from Marygrove College, as a Reading and Literacy Specialist. He is also a cancer survivor and resides in metro Detroit.