Anthony Asadullah Samad, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum, believes that it is time for black parents to do something about what he sees as a disturbing trend among black readers, especially young boys.
They used to say that if you want to hide something from black people, put it in a book. I can tell you, having moderated panels on both coasts (the Harlem Book Fair and the first Leimert Park Book Festival) in the past month, that, for the most part, a lot of black people are reading. It's what they're reading (fiction, romance, erotica) that might be of concern, but at least some are reading. The African-American market is the "growth market" for the book industry....
There is an exception. Young black boys. Several national surveys have stated that black boys (ages 13-24) are not reading books. An amazing 54% of young boys under 15 years of age (more than half of school aged boys) have never read a book. Most of them drop out of school because they're made to read books. Literary is a crisis in the black community, even though some suggest we're in the midst of a new "black literary renaissance." 70% of black boys/men (high school and college) 21 and under, claim to have read at least one book in their lives, but most can't recall the title. Most of them have read newspapers (mostly sport pages, and magazines), but don't know the pleasure of reading a book. Their leisure (and study) time is spent watching "channel zero" (television) playing video games or on-line. How do we rationalize, as a race and a culture, not exposing our children to literature? I believe that for every video game a child has, they should have two books.
Since I was in my mid-20s, I made a habit of buying a book a week, and trying to read a book a week (it's more like a book a month now). The point is, however, reading became a habit for me. As much a habit as working, exercising, advocating, "getting busy" and sleeping, reading, and subsequently-studying, has always been somewhere in the mix. It became part of my socialization. We have to make reading part of young black male's socialization. We have to ask them, not "Wassup?" but "What you read lately?Sadly enough, even in a book crowd the size of the one I was in Friday night, I recall seeing only a handful of black customers: two teenage boys who seemed to be there separately, a young couple with no children in sight, and a father with two cute little girls in hand. Dr. Samad is right. Something has to be done to inspire kids to read, and that something has to start with parents. Today's black culture does not seem to reward reading the way that it did in previous generations and that is a terrible disservice to its young people. I hope that Dr. Samad's message is taken to heart by black parents everywhere because children aren't likely to become readers without some inspiration from their parents and educators.
Make 'em respond too. Stop showering our young boys with toys, and clothes and electronic gadgets. Shower them with books. Hold them hostage on the other stuff until they read a book. Want some $150 sneakers? Read $150 worth of books. Want a $40 video game? Yeah, after you buy $40 worth of books.
Want $2000 rims? Hell, you can buy a library for $2,000-that's about a book a week. Young people's favorite saying is, "Don't get it twisted." They definitely got it twisted. What they think is important is not really important. What they think has value, don't have the value to take them where they now to go. Now, we have to twist them back. We have to show them what real value is. It needs to start with reading a book.