Addressing Young Black Male Literacy Crisis

by October 23, 2009

African American Adolescent Male Summer Literacy Institute
Research says there is an adolescent literacy crisis in the United States, particularly among African-American males in urban communities. Alfred Tatum, associate professor of literacy, language and culture at the University of Illinois at Chicago, has made a serious commitment to provide a solution through his summer institute.

Now in its second year, the African American Adolescent Male Summer Literacy Institute helps connect young black males to literacy as a possible way out of violence and poverty. Students read and write about their plight and issues affecting their generation, while learning valuable life skills.

“The institute focuses on using a variety of fiction and non-fiction texts as tools to support African-American adolescent males to write about the multiple contexts that shape their lives,” said Tatum, who also is director of the UIC Reading Clinic.

The institute features reading, writing, spoken word and mentoring to help nurture the next generation of socially conscious readers and writers similar to prominent authors like James Baldwin, W.E.B. DuBois, Ralph Ellison, Haki Madhubuti, Richard Wright, and young adult novelist Walter Dean Myers.

Tatum, who grew up facing his own challenges in the Ida B. Wells housing project in Chicago, wants to inspire young black males to develop a passion for literacy and help them realize their full potentials.

“I want to help shape positive life outcome trajectories for many young African-American adolescent males who often opt for deadly pathways like violence or crime,” Tatum said.

Institute students will have the chance to demonstrate their lessons with Derrick Barnes, popular children’s book author, and Clinton Smith, spoken word poet. Five young males will be selected for a two-day trip to Harlem in August, and have their writings critiqued by Walter Dean Myers.

Nearly 70 students applied to the institute. Only 12 were accepted.

Support for the institute comes from Scholastic, Inc., the world’s largest publisher and distributor of children’s books.

The institute runs through July, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, at the UIC Reading Clinic, 1040 W. Harrison St. (L268 – level). The culminating event is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 8. For media inquiries, call (773) 633-7971.

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