De Anza panel talks about representation in literature and how to get pupils interested in reading

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In the De Anza College panel “Racially Relevant Literacy” on June 7, Julius B. Anthony spoke about how to help students enjoy reading and how his organization has helped alleviate low literacy levels in his home state. , Missouri.

“When it comes to reading and literacy, black children tend to have difficulty,” Anthony said. “We also know that less than 3% of all children’s picture books published by major publishers in 2019 were written by African Americans.”

He added that about 70 percent of black third-graders in Missouri fail their state-mandated literacy exams each year.

This kind of standard drove him to create the organization St. Louis Black authors of children’s literature and “Believe it! Project, ”which created“ literacy labs ”in community centers and schools to provide spaces for black children to access black authored books.

“The intention is to provide a space where a child’s confidence is built,” Anthony said. “The reading experience for many black children can be traumatic. So you can imagine that if you are not happy in the situation that school is putting you in, then you are less willing to learn or give in to this process.

For Anthony, the pitch for creating these spaces was simple.

“Children are no different from adults when they decide which books to read,” said Anthony. “The books or information we give our children should reflect their experiences. “

Since its inception, the organization has recruited 17 local authors to join its consortium and has been able to distribute more than 20,000 books to children in the region. His original goal was to open a lab in 2019 – less than two years later, they have up to seven sites.

When the pandemic ended face-to-face gatherings, the project also produced a children’s literary television show, which Anthony described as “the modern hip-hop experience of Mr. Rogers”.

Elvin Ramos, dean of the social and human sciences department, which organized the event, said he invited Anthony to speak because he resonated with children’s difficulties in reading.

“When I was in middle school or even elementary school, my parents just didn’t have time to support my reading,” Ramos said. “It was programs like ‘The Believe! Project ‘which completed what my school was unable to provide and made me want to read.

Albert Pearsall III, assistant professor at District of Columbia Community College, said that as a black man he also encountered the difficulties described by Anthony. He said that reading comics for the first time made him research more literature.

“Coming in without reading, I would like to tell people that the important thing is to read, period,” Pearsall said. “It’s not always what you read that matters. Start with brochures, then move on to magazines. And from there, move on to short stories, then short books and so on. “

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