Black Literacy, Black Liberation and Focusing on Black Futures Alongside Black History

Black History Month is great. But our ancestors would be somersaulting in their graves if they understood how few of our children can exercise the rights they fought so hard for.  As it stands only 18% of Black Children in Oakland are reading on grade level.

We have fought for the right to sit in schools that don’t teach us, earned the right to sit at lunch counters where our children can’t read the menu, and access to colleges where we don’t generally qualify for admission. Meanwhile, the city is emptying of Black folks and the streets are filling up with them. There is no place in the new Oakland for our children if they can’t read—except the streets, cells, or long commutes to menial jobs, with little security and even less agency.

As the Oakland NAACP stated, “Freedom without literacy is like being in a rowboat without paddles.” At the current rate, most of our children will be drifting, at the mercy of the rapid White waters, between stagnation and peril. What access to Dr. King’s dream or Oakland’s wealth will those children have?

This has to change. This sense of urgency brought together Oakland’s Literacy for All Campaign, a partnership of grassroots community and literacy organizations, including the Oakland REACH and the Oakland NAACP, as well as the school district and many charter networks, and the State of Black Education in Oakland. We are driving a citywide campaign for literacy, focused not only on our students in the early grades, but the literacy needs of every family member, adults and children—Literacy for All.

We are demanding that schools improve how they teach, be more transparent with families and authentically engage the whole family in reading. This is why the Literacy for All campaign was formed, and we need every member of the village to join us.

This call to arms is not only for those of us in Oakland’s Black community. In the same district where 18.6% of K-8 Black children can read, fully 72.5% of White children are meeting or exceeding standards. And that gap has only grown over the last 5 years. Again, think about it: The inequity is getting worse.  It’s not much better for our Brown brothers and sisters, 23.8% of Latinx youth read on grade level.

Equity Talk without much Walk

In Oakland, the land of the porters and the home of the panthers. In Oakland, where equity talk falls like rain but the equity walk follows in a mere trickle. We hear proclamations from our leaders, but little action, we get a lot Oakland Promise’s, but not a lot of Oakland results. We see school board meetings shut down because a Hills community had its school closed, but these same folks are conscientious objectors in the war against illiteracy.

And nobody is marching on the school full of Black and Brown children that hasn’t had heat all year and whose 8th graders haven’t had a math or science teacher.   Instead they picket over billionaires and privatization.

We know this is not just an Oakland problem. A new report from brightbeam shows that the most politically progressive cities actually have worse achievement gaps than even the most conservative cities. It should be a wake-up call for a progressive Mecca like Oakland to start using our progressive values to do the work that’s required to achieve the equity and opportunity we love to talk about.

Generations of Empty Rights

Talking to families in Oakland, this has gone on for generations. They didn’t learn to read, their child didn’t learn to read, and now their grandchild is struggling with reading. And too many of our schools aren’t teaching reading based on science, nor are they being honest about how children are actually doing. With kids getting A’s and B’s while being multiple grade levels behind.

This is work too long delayed, and a dream too long deferred.  It is well past time to focus not only on Black history but take action for Black futures.

To support the Literacy for All campaign, sign our petition now.

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