Give me Literacy!



Where is our modern day Patrick Henry? Where is our advocate for upward linguistic mobility that recognizes the liberty in literacy? It is true that if you want to lead, you must read!

The saying goes, if you want to hide something from a black person, put it in a book.  I remember being told this in school and experiencing an unsettling feeling in my heart, when I heard such a message.

In my six years as a teacher, I have witnessed the continued decline and lack of interest towards reading books by our young black men. Many of our youth in Detroit are dressed in the finest apparel, yet facing educational peril. A report from Education Week, a weekly educational newspaper, reports that Detroit’s high school dropout rate is 75%. National studies suggest that Detroit’s illiteracy rate was, at one point, among the highest of any major American city at 47%.

Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu has denoted that many states determine how many prisons are needed based on third grade reading scores. The sentiment is that if students are not able to read by the third grade, then they are lost and will be unlawful citizens of society. In juvenile court, roughly 80% of the kids are illiterate. The prison system is a microcosm of institutionalized slavery. If our youth cannot read then jails are waiting for them and opportunities will be denied to them.

In the movie, The Great Debaters Henrietta Wells declared, “Education is the death of mental slavery.” Young people are like Kodak film, all they need is development and exposure. If we can liberate the minds of our youth with rich literature, we can then liberate their future.

Hosea 4:6 declares, “My people perish for a lack of knowledge.” Our communities are depraved and dying because of the state of illiteracy. According to Dr. Mary Bigler, children should learn 70 new words per week and know at least 60,000 words by the end of 12th grade. How will this take place if Generation X and Y are playing their X-Box, wired to their iPod, or tweeting on Twitter?

What is the solution to the illiteracy malady? Literacy begins in the home. The National Center for Education reports that only 45 percent of parents read to their children. Children who read with their parents have greater phonemic awareness, comprehension, fluency, speech recognition, and communicative and verbal ability. Parental illiteracy is one of the major predictors of a child’s future success. Parents must be educated so they can educate their children. A significant number of Detroit’s adults are unable to read themselves; consequently their children become a by-product of their deficiency.

According to the National Institute for Literacy, 7 million people cannot read words; 27 million cannot read well enough to fill out a job application. Overall 30 million Americans cannot read a sentence.

We must partner with local groups to increase literacy in the community and promote a greater level of literacy in the classroom. We must not only shout, “Give me Literacy”, but we must be proactive about eradicating illiteracy in our city.

Eddie Connor is an author, evangelist, and motivational speaker with a powerful story of overcoming cancer. Visit his website: