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06/12/20

Literacy to Break through Injustice and Inequity

At Reading Is Fundamental, we believe literacy is one of the keys to breaking through the cycle of injustice and inequity that continues to impact Black children and children of color in America. The tragic death of George Floyd in the street in Minneapolis activated our nation to shine a spotlight not only on the systemic inequities that exist for the Black community but on the systemic change that is required to break this cycle for future generations.

The historic events of the last two weeks have brought to mind one of my favorite quotes, “Literacy is the bridge from misery to hope.” At a time when misery seems to be everywhere, this quote from Kofi Annan is a reminder that there is hope because there is a path forward and it starts with literacy.

Reading Is Fundamental has been dedicated to this issue for more than 50 years because we know if a child can read, they have the foundation to learn and grow. We have focused on closing the literacy equity gap that exists for our nation’s most at-risk youth because we believe reading is the fundamental building block to a child’s future.

There is no equality without equity, and we know that the racial divide in literacy is a long-standing and systemic issue. Every two years, America’s Report Card is released. NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) has tracked students’ progress since 1969. When they first started to report test scores in 1992, there was a 27-point gap in reading proficiency between Black and White students in 4th grade. When the 2019 results on reading proficiency were released last fall, it was clear that the nation was NOT making progress, as there is still a nearly 27-point gap between Black and White students. That should not be tolerated. That is 30 years of systemic failure and it is unacceptable. To put a finer point on this, only 18% of Black children in 4th grade met the reading proficiency benchmark in the 2019 NAEP assessment. You can see the 2019 national results, as well as a state-by-state breakdown, on RIF’s website.

Every day, RIF commits itself to leveling the playing field for our most at-risk youth by encouraging and supporting them on their reading journey. We work with communities nationwide to get books to these children and to create a culture of literacy for them. Today, literacy is more important than ever to help break down barriers of racial discrimination and social injustices, and to overcome economic inequities. We are at our best as a nation when everyone can fully participate as citizens, workers, and leaders. It rests on all of us to ensure every child has the opportunity to read, to learn, and to succeed in life. We all have a responsibility to act until every child reads. With this in mind, I am committing RIF to accelerating our efforts as the nation’s leading voice for children’s literacy to driving systemic change.

We will work with our partners and literacy advocates nationwide to:

  • Expand content offerings, ensuring children of all colors and backgrounds see themselves in the books we distribute.
  • Broaden author selection, actively working with diverse authors to promote authentic perspectives.
  • Engage powerful and diverse voices through our National Advisory Board to guide our work in serving children in the most marginalized communities.
  • Develop a trusted destination to provide parents, educators, caregivers, children, and literacy advocates with book recommendations, research, and activities to support complex conversations about race, differences, and the power of inclusion - through literacy.
  • Create a Fund for Equity & Inclusion to direct resources to the communities with the greatest need.
  • Convene our National Reading Coalition to focus on Race, Equity, and Inclusion.

I am inspired by the millions of people who have raised their voices in the last two weeks to call for change and to create a better future, and I am inspired once again by the wise words of Kofi Annan: “Literacy is, finally, the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman and child can realize his or her full potential.”

Alicia Levi
President & Chief Executive Officer
Reading Is Fundamental