In today’s society, literacy has become the essential skill to successful living. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that approximately 50 percent of the nation’s unemployed youth age 16-21 are functional illiterate, with virtually no prospects of obtaining good jobs. Also, the National Institute for Literacy reported that more than 20 percent of adults read at or below a fifth-grade level – far below the level needed to earn a living wage. Literacy has much control over the lives of many individuals and has a big influence on the current state of the African American community.

Detroit, Michigan is one of the cities in the United States with the highest population of African Americans. Nearly half of that population are functionally illiterate with elementary reading, writing and sometimes even speech competency levels. As with the prison system, the unemployment rate and the high school drop out rate, there is an overwhelming gap between the amount of literate black and white students throughout the United States. Along with the majority of the unemployed and the incarcerated being black, a great bulk of those people are also illiterate. It is not just out students, but the black community as a whole lacking these essential life skills.

Many black children do not see the importance of knowing how to read and write, simply because they are in environments where they are not taught that it is importance. Some of our youth are relying on a career in athletics or music to support them, but they need to be shown that even though they have goals to be the next NBA star or the rising R&B singer, things along these lines are somewhat fantasies and are not reachable by everyone. They need to face the reality that getting as much education as they can receive is the key to how far they can go and life and to always use education as a backup plan.

If those that have reading and writing skills outreach to those who can’t read and write, there is no reason why the literacy rate in our community can not be increased. Those of us that are literate should do our best to promote African American literacy. There are several programs around the area that NCSU students can get involved in, including a service-learning course at the university in which you can work directly with youth that are at-risk to lacking reading and writing skills due to the societal factors they face. ENG 455, Literacy in the United States is a course in the English department that offers this opportunity. You can also visit one of the many after-school programs in the area on your own time where you can volunteer to work with K-12 children. The Communities in Schools of Wake County program guides the youth towards high school graduation and post-secondary education.

Visit givebacktothefuture.org on information about supporting this program, giving back to the community or volunteering at a center. Many of the centers are very convenient and close to the university’s campus, making this a great opportunity for those living both on and off campus to help those in need.