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At the Nexus of Faith and Literacy: Are We Failing Our Black Boys?

Reading is important to the wellbeing of our children. In fact, reading is the new wellness. Nowhere is this more evident than the reality faced by millions of students across America still recovering from the effects of distance learning brought on by the pandemic.

Of all affected ethnic groups, however, black and brown boys stand the most to lose.

According to two new reports from the consulting firm McKinsey & Company and the NWEA, a nonprofit organization that provides academic assessments, in math and reading, students are behind where they would be after a normal school year - and the steepest drops are among the black and brown boy demographic, the two groups most negatively educationally impacted by remote learning, according to the findings.

In short, for a grouping already lagging behind in reading test scores before the pandemic, these new findings portend an even more serious situation as the pandemic moves to endemic. Far worse, they point to a coming epidemic of hopelessness and worsening high school dropout, literacy and incarceration rates for black and brown boys as they mature into young adulthood.

In light of this, what do we do? Are we in ministry failing our black boys? Is the gap in reading test scores between black boys and their respective peer groups hollow ground for the gospel of Jesus Christ that we preach?

If we are not in some way reaching out to the families and caregivers of this education grouping via mentoring, remedial and interventionist approaches, we are indeed failing in our role as kingdom builders witnessing to the brand new future that God has for each of us.

We offer Christ as the foundation of a complete life, as we should. But in far too many instances, we have failed to provide the scaffolding of mentoring, guidance and structured wellness as black boys develop into manhood.

Back to reading.

Black boys who do not read on grade level by their fourth year into the education process are waiting for statistics and statistics are waiting for them.

According to Matthew Lynch, an educational consultant and former teacher who now researches policy and education reform, "Reading is only one piece of the school puzzle, of course, but it is a foundational one. If the eighth graders in our schools cannot read, how will they ever learn other subjects and make it to a college education (or, in reality, to a high school diploma)? Reading scores tell us so much more than the confines of their statistics and I believe these numbers are key to understanding the plight of young Black men in our society as a whole."

Not being able to read points to an ominous future: Juvenile crime and delinquent behavior; loss of hope; more likely to drop out of high school and less likely to enter and graduate college.

Aside from the social costs if these reading trends continue among our boys are the emotional damages that come with falling behind. The aforementioned study shares that families across all economic and social sectors reported a "rise in temper tantrums, anxiety, and a poor ability to manage emotions, especially among the young elementary-aged children during remote learning."

As a substitute teacher professional, I have witnessed this up close and personal post remote learning. When a child cannot read on par with his classmates, it leads to negative behaviors on the part of that child.

We can no longer wait for the education grouping to save our boys. It must begin in our homes, churches and communities.

Reading must become the new wellness for our black boys.

Pastor W. Eric Croomes is Executive Director of The Kusoma Project, an online and community based black boy advocacy group.

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