Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Remembering what we should remember about Our Story

This video is an ad for Bell's Whisky which is a South African alcoholic beverage. The title of this particular video is The Reader. I want to encourage you to view the video before reading my thoughts about it. No, I am not advocating alcohol consumption. It is the story that I want you to look at because it is one that you may be able to relate to as a Black person. 

I viewed this particular ad yesterday and I have no problem with sharing that the story line brought tears to my eyes because of the memories that it stirred up from my childhood. 

In our community there were people who did not have literacy skills for different reasons or they had minimal skills in this area. Many of these adults had been denied the opportunity to attend school for different reasons. Their childhood years were during the era when America was openly oppressive towards Black people. The idea that Negroes needed to have educations was not a high priority in many states. The economic conditions for many Black families required that going to work to help out was a necessity for survival. 

My maternal grandparents never attended school after completing the fourth grade. They both had to leave to become contributing members of their respective families. They were children in the beginning of the 1900's. Even though it was known that education was important so was the ability to survive in openly hostile conditions. 

Even though my grandparents were not able to continue to attend school on a regular basis both of them could read and write in a very functional manner, My grandfather also had a skill that he mastered very well. He could keep books like an accountant with formal training. We still have the ledgers that he used to keep account of his earnings and how money was spent. He kept accurate records over the course of his life time in the same manner that educated accountants used to keep books. According to the actual amount of education that he completed that was a skill that should have not been his to utilize. We believe based on information about our ancestors that he probably acquired this skill from one of the Hairston (pronounced Haastone for the actual Dutch descendants) while he was growing up in Virginia. 

It was not unusual during my childhood to know adult who were illiterate or had the bare minimum of skills in this area. These adults would ask for help and it was given without any condemnation. Instead of mocking someone for the lack of their skills, there was encouragement to acquire those skills and classes that were held in the community to help them.

After my grandfather passed my grandmother decided to attend school again. She was in her early Sixties when she made this decision. We would have dinner together and she would head out to Champion Junior High School carrying her books to attend class. I can remember coming home from school and seeing her sitting in the living room studying or completing an assignment. I also remember her sharing her graded work with me often with a big smile on her face because she had been persistent and successful. 

I have been present in that moment when an adult has completed a GED course after a great struggle to pass the tests. The sense of accomplishment and personal pride was thick in the room and it felt like we had achieved a victory.

That is why the story line in this ad resonates with me. I understand what it is like for adults who were denied the opportunity to attend school and acquire basic skills to move past that point. That struggle to meet their personal goal is one that I know from experience in my own family. I have seen the same version of this story open up in the lives of people that I love as well as people that I helped along the way.

If you think that illiteracy is a problem that only developing nations must deal with, here are some statistics that will help raise your awareness of the number of people in the United States and within the global community who are illiterate: The information is from the Statistic Brain website:

Percent of U.S. adults who can’t read14 %
Number of U.S. adults who can’t read32 Million
Percent of U.S. adults who read below a 5th grade level21 %
Percent of prison inmates who can’t read63 %
Percent of high school graduates who can’t read19 %
Global Illiteracy
Number of people worldwide who can’t read774 Million
Percent of the worlds illiterate who are female66 % 
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