Monday, July 01, 2013

Young Black Males and Literacy

A book written by Wayne Martino and Bob Meyenn, published by the Open University Press, asks the question, “What about the Boys?” The authors insist that this question is “timely, given the continued moral panic that persists about boys regarding their disadvantaged status relative to girls” in our public school system. This disadvantage is most readily seen by the numbers of boys, particularly, the majority of African American boys who fail to meet measures of adequate reading proficiency. The reality remains that in an information-based society, most of the knowledge and skills that come to us, arrives visually whether in print or through various technologies. Deficiencies in reading are thus compounded as barriers to receiving and understanding the knowledge that is available that would empower us, if only we could read and interpret it. Reading is therefore the cornerstone of success.

The numbers are alarming. Nationally, only 9 % of African American boys in eighth grade are proficient readers (compared to about a third of white males), according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress Statistics. In the city of Richmond, VA this number drops to only 6%. In other words, according to the US Census, Richmond, VA has a population of @ 14,000 boys ages 15-19 years old. As such we have only 840 boys of 14,000 who can read at a proficient level. In addition, on average, African American 12th grade students read at the same level of white 8th grade students. Conversely, in 2007, nearly 6.2 million young people were high school dropouts. Every student who does not complete high school costs our society an estimated $260,000 in lost earnings, taxes, and productivity or $1.6 Trillion in losses. Research suggests that the reasons for boys, in particular African American boys being left behind during our current information era are complex, which, in all likelihood accounts for the lack of adequate response to address this pressing issue. However, complacency and inaction are not options. We must do something to help our boys strengthen their reading proficiency and literacy if we are going to raise the quality of life for everyone in our society. The inability of boys to read, leads to the inability of our boys to gain significant skills to strengthen their employability, to nurture and provide for their spouses and children, and reduces their self confidence, self esteem, and self efficacy. Consequently, raising the level or reading proficiency among African American boys is not simply a matter of social responsibility. It is also a matter of social necessity. Our society suffers as a whole when members of our community do not have the skills and ability to provide for their families and contribute to our communities according to their potential. Because our boys are in crisis, we all are in crisis.

Richmond Public Library is committed to keeping our community informed, enriching the lives of individuals and their families, and empowering our citizens with the opportunities to strengthen their knowledge, skills, and social awareness. With all the great works that we do, we are committed to a new initiative to address the issue of lack of reading proficiency among African American boys. We are in the initial stages of developing the Black Males Excel in Reading Program. We envision that we can be a catalyst for change in the Richmond community. The mission of this initiative is to address and reduce the growing literacy gap between rich privileged and poor at risk children and their families. We intend to promote the development of reading by partnering with community organizations and individuals who are investing in serving and supporting Black Male Academic Achievement. 

The goals of the initiative are to:
  • To convey to Black Male Teens the importance of reading as the foundation for success in school, family, and life
  • To help Black Male Teens cultivate a life-long love for reading
  • To encourage the development of higher-level thinking skills in Black Male Teens
  • To strengthen the confidence, self-esteem, and self-efficacy of Black Males Teens regarding reading, literacy, and academic success
  • Improve the communities awareness and understanding of the value of encouraging Black Males to Read

We are confident that our libraries, throughout the City of Richmond offer a unique opportunity to our residents to provide resources, support, and the needed motivation to help our African American boys improve their reading proficiency and become lifelong readers.

This blog post was written by Hull Street Branch Manager, Dr. Khalil Ali. Dr. Ali is an advocate for young black males, family, and literacy.

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