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Reading Is a Right, And We Must Fight to Protect It

Rick Callender | Special to California Black Media Partners

In the Black community, literacy stands as a cornerstone of empowerment, guiding our way toward liberation and advancement.

For centuries, African Americans have been denied their right to read either through the direct outlawing of literacy instruction and books for enslaved people of African descent, or more indirectly, by the systemic and systematic failures of public schools in effectively teaching children of color.

These failures are evident in California, where only two in 10 African American students from low-income communities are reading on grade level in the third grade. This is not just an education issue. It is the greatest social justice problem we currently face.

Research consistently shows that children who are not reading proficiently by the end of the third grade are four times less likely to graduate high school. This number increases to eight times less likely if the student comes from a family that is economically disadvantaged. Consequently, this leads to limited opportunities for a career above the poverty line. Even more troubling, limited literacy is directly linked to poor health, homelessness, disenfranchisement, and incarceration.

Given the urgency of this issue, the NAACP is championing a resolution that commits to ensuring that every child is reading by the first grade and masters reading by the third grade. Our organization has recently launched a nationwide partnership with The Right to Read film, seeking to bring awareness to the literacy crisis and the critical need to incorporate the “science of reading” into every classroom.

Let us acknowledge the transformative power of words to inspire, educate, and uplift, and let us work tirelessly to ensure that every child in California and across the nation has the opportunity to write their own story of success and fulfillment.

Because of this, the NAACP California Hawaii (CA/HI) State Conference supports Assembly Bill (AB) 2222, an early literacy bill authored by Assemblymember Blanca E. Rubio (D-Baldwin Park). This legislation directly aligns with the NAACP 2024 priorities as it addresses the reading crisis head-on to prevent further discrimination in a child’s future.

While the cost of implementation may seem overwhelming during a state budget deficit, we must prioritize equitable access to opportunity for children by ensuring they can read. Accessible, quality education is at the forefront of the NAACP’s strategies for reforming education, and with a state education budget of over $120 billion and a state general fund budget of over $200 billion, we can surely find the money for the most important academic issue of our time.

Literacy isn’t merely about decoding words on a page; it’s about unlocking doors to opportunity, dismantling barriers to success, and nurturing critical thinking. Yet, despite our resilience and unwavering commitment to education, disparities persist.

In spite of the odds, together, we will overcome generations of injustices and safeguard the freedoms of California’s children.

Literacy is not only a fundamental human right but also serves as a catalyst for social change and collective liberation and this is why the NAACP CA/HI State Conference wholeheartedly supports AB 2222 and remains committed to the mission of fostering literacy within California’s Black community and nationwide.

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