Reading is Lit: Lighting up little readers
Fathers & Families of San Joaquin tried a new approach to stress the importance of literacy in a community where some children have fallen far below state and national averages.
They cranked up the music, brought in perhaps the city’s most recognizable sports star and created a high-energy environment in an effort to get children and their parents excited about reading.
Fathers & Families welcomed more than 100 men, women and children into its downtown Stockton headquarters Saturday for an event entitled Reading is Lit. The name of the event was derived from a slang term used among young people to say something fun or exciting is happening.
“That’s a term for the youth,” said Jagada Chambers, one of the event’s organizers. “If they go to a party and it’s lit, they’re going to have a good time. We want reading to be lit.”
Chambers said the goal was to make reading and literacy cool. The event included spoken word performances, a poetry competition, book giveaways and two panel discussions that featured an appearance by Stockton native Dallas Braden, who pitched a perfect game for the Oakland Athletics in 2010 before joining ESPN as a baseball analyst.
“It’s about arming people with education and the ability to read and create a world for yourself that some people feel does not exist,” Braden said. “The power of reading allows you to create any world you want. Your world gets a whole lot bigger, a whole lot brighter, and opportunities become more abundant. Reading and writing arms you with tools that nobody can take away from you.”
Fathers & Families cited statistics showing that fewer than 20 percent of black and Latino children in the Stockton Unified School District qualified as proficient on the third-grade English language arts California Standards Test in 2013-14.
Raymond Aguilar, 41, recently released from prison after serving 26 years for a murder conviction, said he wants to help.
“I was 15 years old when I committed my crime and I was tried as an adult,” said Aguilar, who now works for Fathers & Families. “I didn’t even have a fifth-grade reading comprehension level. I went to prison and got an education. I told people it’s a shame that I couldn’t get an education in my own community, but I wasn’t going to school and I wasn’t reading and writing. My mother and father were heroin addicts and my grandmother was a drug dealer, so foster care raised me and I ran away.”
Fathers & Families Executive Director Sammy Nunez referred to Aguilar’s life story during a fiery speech to those who attended Saturday’s event.
“This is about our survival,” Nunez said. “This is about our children’s survival. We should not have to go to prison to learn to read.”
Liu Mafi, 24, another member of Fathers & Families, sat in a back room with dozens of children, helping them write, illustrate and laminate their own books.
“This is life-changing,” Mafi said. “These kids don’t usually have the opportunity to sit down and do something like this. Kids on the south side, kids on the east side, they don’t get this at all.”
One of the children was 8-year-old Zamiya Williams, who was holding a plastic bag with several free books she chose to take home with her.
“I’m enjoying making books and learning how to read,” Zamiya said.
Emily Borg, the policy and resource director at Fathers & Families, said the organization feels strongly about improving literacy in Stockton.
“We have over 100 youth and adult community members here to bring attention to the importance of literacy,” Borg said. “We know that Stockton has incredibly low literacy rates, and we’re working to change that.”