Suggested Topic: Why are books like Kryptonite to the Impoverished.
We've all heard the saying, "If you wanna hide anything from black people put it in a book." While we all know SOMEONE who's an avid reader, we seem to be missing the boat when it comes to young people and the impoverished. Is it because books are considered a financial luxury in many households? Is it because according to tests our children read at a lower grade levels? Is it because we are too busy grinding to take the time out to sit still and read a book? I believe it's a little bit of these but much more.
I can remember the first time I asked my mom to get me a big people's book with no pictures. Iures. I was 7 years old and the book my mother graced me with was The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis. (For you youngsters that would be The Chronicles of Narnia.) Although somewhat disappointed I decided enh I'll give it a try. Needless to say I didn't get past the 3rd chapter. Talk about BOOOOORRRING. I couldn't relate to this fairy-tale land that was soooo far from what I saw either on television or in my day to day experiences. You see I'd played in my mothers wardrobe for many years prior and all I ever found in there was clothes and shoes. No Lions, Witches, Secret Lands, NADA. I decided then, I'd stick with the kiddie books. Sure they weren't giving me any insight to the world that was evolving around me which I wanted so much to learn about. You see growing up in the south there's a certain set of rules that are taught from birth. One being, a child has no place in a grown persons' conversation. There were just certain questions you simply didn't ask.
About a year later I asked my mother about sex, I have HBO and squiggly Playboy channels to thank for that introduction...lol. In any event, she came home the next day with...you guessed it, a book. The book was entitled Where Did I Come From and it was written by Peter Mayle. Ohhh BOY did this book have LOTS of pictures. Imagine little illustrations of sperm with top hats and roses, get the picture. I was hooked. I thought if I could learn this much information from one single book I'm gonna get a library card and be the smartest person in the world. Many other books followed, some allowed my young mind to soar. I could go anywhere, Anywhere, ANYWHERE (Reading Rainbow :-D) my mind and my books would take me. My biggest goal though was to be just like my mom. You see the reason I asked for books in the first place was because my earliest memories were of my mom with her nose pressed inside a book. When I was growing up one of my proudest memories was of my mothers book shelves. She had EVERYTHING. Beautiful black people on beautiful book covers that were neatly arranged and I'm pretty sure alphabetized.
Over the years my mom flooded me with books books and more books. After observing my affinity for certain types of books with specific content she decided to introduce books that reinforced my natural interests. I'd been reciting Langston Hughes poems since Nursery School. *Thank you Redus Kiddie Kampus for giving me the right foundation!* So she started with books of poems. Everything from Langston to Nikki Giovanni, who's writing I fell in love with at a very early age. Her poems were melodic and surreal. I could literally imagine myself being lulled in the Congo dig it? Then she did it. One day she came home with a slim book of poems white cover with a rainbow and a drawing of a sistah with a gorgeous head wrap on the cover. But it was the title that came crashing down on me. This book was For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf. by Ntozake Shange. My first thought as a 11 year old girl was "unh unh, she can't spell enuf?" My second thought was "wait, does that say suicide?". I DOVE in nose first and read it from cover to cover that first day. When I cracked that book open I was a little black girl longing to travel the world through the miracle of books. When I finished that book of poems I was a young black woman aware of an innate sense of who I was, my purpose and place on this earth and in my community and the strength it took to differentiate between being in this world but not of this world. You see what reading gave me was the bravery to be me, little black girl just as I am and the insight to know that that little black girl could grow up and be ANYTHING she desired simply because there were things she knew about herself and the world that only few people seemed to know. Thanks Books!!!
About 4 years ago I had a conversation with my godchild. I asked him, why it was he loved losing himself in movies so much, *this could would literally zone out during a movie & when it was over, become his favorite character for at least 2 weeks*, but he hated to read or do anything that involved reading. His response to me was "because it's boring." 1 year ago I asked my little cousin the same question. His answer " I just don't like to read, It's too slow." I prefaced each question with "Do you ever catch anyone in your house reading any books or magazines?" For both the answer was yes. I was stumped for a while but then I got it. These kids came into these worlds with all kinds of gadgets that removed imagination from their academic diets. They no longer had to fill in the blanks and voids of a good story because everything was explained to them plainly in movies and games. I've also noticed over the years that their schools didn't have those "The person who reads the most books get's a special prize" contests we had when I was growing up.
So I have a conversation with a friends 15 year old nephew. *Thug to the bone but I digress.* I asked him if he read for recreation. He said he didn't. I asked him why? he said it was because he didn't read well. So I asked him to read something to himself first then read it to me out loud. Needless to say, when he read to himself he read about a page and a half of the book in the time I allotted him. But when he read out loud he got through 1 single paragraph. I asked him to explain both passages he'd just read and he fully understood the page and a half but neither remembered or could comprehend what he'd read out loud. He explained to me that the only time reading was ever required of him was when he was in school and it always included reading aloud in front of the class. So it was clear his aversion to reading was directly related to how he was perceived by fellow students due to his seemingly lack of reading skills. Of course I asked him if he'd ever witnessed anyone in his household reading for recreation and his answer was no. I asked his mom later where her books/bookshelf was and she replied "Oh girl I've been meaning to set one up but I just haven't had the time or the money to waste on books when I got kids to feed." I got it, I really did, but I couldn't excuse it. There are too many resources in the naked city to find free and cheap books to buy that excuse. There's a library in EVERY SINGLE NEIGHBORHOOD in this naked city and every school has some sort of library or at least some reading material available for students who were interested.
The one secret people who don't read have not learned is that IF YOU CAN READ, YOU CAN LEARN ANYTHING. There are tutorials and diy's everywhere. Sure you may not want to read Zane because you find no interest in losing yourself and allowing yourself to be someone else for an hour or so. You certainly may buy into the Toni Morrison's novels are far too deep for me to understand. I always considered reading to be relative. Whatever you bring to that story, your life experience relates to SOMETHING in any story. That's what you bring to the book and that's the knowledge you get from the book. It's therapeutic. It allows your mind to escape the daily hustle and bustle, the mortgage, the bills, the tuition and just unplug. And who needs to unplug more than us really? Turn the T.V. OFF and READ TO YOUR CHILDREN, READ WITH YOUR CHILDREN, if you can't read, ALLOW YOUR CHILDREN TO READ TO YOU! Learn TOGETHER. It's NEVER too late to start. We're fighting, begging and pleading to get our children into the schools that we feel will give them the tools they need to succeed in life when the very resource that will allow our children to do that is at our disposal. AND IT'S FREE. As always, share your thoughts, if nothing more, READ this blog entry. Or let your kids read it to you ;-).