Fluency is taking a back seat this week, instead, I will talk about #BlackLivesMatter
by Dr. Sam Bommarito
This week I had promised readers I would be talking about fluency and some of the amazing ideas and methods I have learned from the work of Dr. Tim Rasinski. That blog post will be forthcoming, but this week’s events dictate that I need to talk about the whole issue of Black Lives Matter and potential ways educators can and should respond to the events of the past few weeks. In case you missed it, a good start would be to listen to this recording from the RALLY FOR BLACK LIVES by The Brown Bookshelf (#KIDLIT COMMUNITY) this week-
LINK TO THE RECORDING OF THE RALLY-
Earlier this week, I posted links to the rally on both Facebook and Twitter urging folks to attend, and in a bit of irony when I first went on to watch, I got a “resources full” message from The Brown Bookshelf site. I went to the Zoom alternative they had created- that was full for a time as well. But I finally was able to watch most of the rally live (an amazing experience). As promised, they created a recording that lets folks watch the full 2-hour event. There are almost 10,000 comments about the recording, among them was “I got goosebumps when….”. To say the response to the rally was overwhelming is an understatement.
I will not attempt to unpack everything that was said- there were so many important things that were covered. Instead, I want to react to one thing that caught my eye. Here it is:
“Love letters to kids who need to look to the light, even in our darkest time.” Thanks to Denene Millner for that powerful statement. For me, it reminded me that as educators, it’s all about the kids, all about what we can do (should do) for the kids. I’d like to reflect on what that has meant to me and some of my colleagues here in St. Louis.
A little background. I’m white. I grew up in north St. Louis city. My first teaching job was with the Ferguson Florissant school district. The school where I taught for 18 years was in Jennings Mo, which borders Ferguson. The Ferguson Community Center (I’ll be saying more about that in a minute) is about a mile from my old school. The school had over 90% free lunch. The school population was mainly black. The staff and the parents at that school were something special. Let me elaborate.
One of the roles I took on was as parent liaison for the Title 1 program. That was an extra duty job- for all my time there, my main job was to be a Title 1 reading teacher/Title 1 staff developer. At our first parent meeting, we had three parents. Hmmm. Not a great start. Some might conclude the parents did not really care about their kids. Nothing could be further from the truth. My last year there, we had several hundred attending our parent events. Kids were coming to do flashlight reads in the gym, exchanging books, and eating ice cream. And eating ice cream? You see, folks knew that the trick was to create a sense of community. Ice cream socials were a part of many of the local church events, and they became a part of our school events. Many of our parents worked more than one job (flies in the face of some stereotypes, doesn’t it?). We adjusted accordingly. We held events on different days-different hours. We were blessed to find parents willing to take charge, and they did. Lesson learned here? Building community matters. Listening to parents matters. The parents want to help their kids. But some had such a terrible school experience themselves they were skeptical about coming back to the school. It took time, a lot of reaching out, and a lot of empowering parents. But in the end, we did have a real community. I learned a valuable life lesson from this- building community is foundational to creating successful schools.
Fast forward to the present. What are educators in my community doing now to help children? Enter my good friend and colleague, Julius Anthony. Julius is an educator, an author, and an activist. He is the founder and current President of St. Louis Black Authors. What are they all about?
Julius and his group have opened several literacy centers in the St. Louis region. I was privileged to be there when he opened his very first one. It is located in the Ferguson Community Center. Just down the road from my old school. Julius and the St. Louis Black Authors understand the importance of building community. The shelves in the literacy center are stocked with books that are about the black experience and written by black authors. Julius is an author himself. The project is named after one of his poems, “Believe.” Julius understands the importance of community. The centers include comfortable places to sit and read and murals by local Black artists. Some of the newer centers his group have opened are in schools. His love letter to the children of the St. Louis area is an invitation to come to a safe place to read and find out about black heritage and culture. To find out more about Julius and his wonderful group go to their webpage:
So, that is not the only thing going on in my community, but it is one of the most important ones. As educators, we must do what we can to build community and foster understanding. Julius and his group give us one example of things we could do.
OK, now I PROMISE next week I will do the blog about the issues of fluency and about the importance of teaching in ways that develop the desire to read in each and every child. As Mark Twain said: “The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who can not read.” Certainly, by their community-building efforts, Julius and his group are helping to foster a love of reading in the children of the St. Louis region (and Beyond).
Dr. Sam Bommarito
Copyright 2019 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.
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