With another school year on the horizon, community members, regardless of whether they have young people enrolled in a K-12 school, should work to ensure that young people become strong readers.
Those asking why such a focus on childhood literacy need to look no further than 1901 D Street SE (DC Jail) and federal correctional facilities across the country in which District residents are currently serving time.
At one point, these inmates were school children who, in the midst of abject poverty and violence, struggled to recognize multisyllabic words, comprehend texts and write paragraphs.
Research conducted by the Prison Policy Initiative shows that young people’s frustration with reading manifests into disengagement and delinquency by the fourth grade.
By high school, they may have already made the jump to criminal behavior. Thus marks the start of what George Jackson, in his early 1970s book “Blood in My Eye,” called a natural response to an unjust, inequitable system.
Decades after Jackson’s death in a California state penitentiary, the U.S. continues to account for a large portion of the global prison population, if not the majority.
Many of those who are in the system are victims of illiteracy.
Even so, many prison inmates are reading, fasting and training during Black August. They do so in honor of Jackson and all those who, by virtue of living as marginalized people in the U.S., are considered political prisoners.
Many of these inmates fell in love with reading, as adults, during their stint. Though commendable, it shouldn’t take decades for a person to learn to read. That’s a systemic failure.
That’s why we should each do our part this school year to boost literacy among young people. It has become a matter of saving young people, and saving our city.