Building Bridges to Literacy for African-American Male Youth: A Summit Follow Up (Pt. 2)
So, for those of you just tuning in, this is final post concerning the Building Bridges to Literacy for African-American Male Youth which I attended and presented at earlier this month. If you haven’t read the previous posts, you may feel a little confused, so I entourage to start here, go here, and then come back to us here at part three.
I found the exercise to be pretty fulfilling and by this time, we had only made it to lunch on the first full day, so you can imagine how mentally exhausted (in a good way) we were. We also got to hear from researchers and professors in the field of work with either educators or librarians or even the youth themselves while they showed us the research gaps and gave us some cold hard facts. For an extensive overview of those facts, please take time to read the Council of the Great City Schools’ report, “A Call for Change: The Social and Educational Factors Contributing to the Outcomes of Black Males in Urban Schools”. We also heard from practitioners in the field (myself included) and the opportunities and challenges that exist in meeting the literacy needs of African-American male students as well as what changes needed to be made to ensure success of library programming for these students.
One of the best moments of the entire summit was the next day when a panel of African-American high school and college students came to talk about their experiences as readers, library users, and students in general. They all talked about their favorite books, ranging from African-American biographies to Harry Potter, and then they talked about their ideal library. What did I gather that the ideal library for a young male would entail? Well…the following:
- Free space to hang out
- Technology that you can move around
- A place to hang out with your friends and be loud
I think we all kinda knew that was coming. One thing that they did mention was that they felt judged by staff in the library, as if staff were automatically suspicious of their activities. I know that is the case at my own library with some of the staff, so much so that the teens actually prank the staff members. And these teens mentioned the same thing. Just always remember that judging one’s intentions by their appearance is a sticky subject. Clothing worn by African-American males may be viewed as disrespectful by some but sagging pants? Just a way that young black men identify with other black men. It doesn’t mean that they’re packing heat and about to do a drug deal in your library.
As the summit wrapped up, we were all invited to share what we felt was necessary to keep this discussion open and keep the ball rolling towards starting a nationwide initiative for the library community to step up and work on this issue. Some of the key words that we all felt were action steps are emulated in the Wordle at the top of the second post. Community, love, collaboration…just to name a few.
But basically, it is our job, as library practitioners, to ensure that we are recognizing that there is a huge issue and challenging ourselves to come up with small scale, or large scale, solutions. If you have had a successful literacy program at your library, share in the comments field OR EVEN BETTER, contact either Karen or myself so that you can do a guest post called Teen Program in a Box or a TPIB. It doesn’t have to be difficult and if you want one of us to write up what you do, we’d be glad to.
Please check out more of the information at the summit’s official website: Building Bridges to Literacy for African-American Male Youth or at the blog where you can read articles that many of the summit attendees are putting together.
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About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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