Literacy and Justice: A Message to Our Field
Ira Yankwitt, Executive Director, Literacy Assistance Center
June 15, 2020
June 15, 2020
At the LAC, we believe that, as adult literacy educators, we have a moral obligation to actively participate in the fight against systemic racism and white supremacy and to explicitly align our work with movements for racial, social, and economic justice.
Over the past three months, COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted Black and Brown communities throughout our city, and many of our students have been on the frontlines of the pandemic. Some are the grocery store workers, delivery workers, and home care workers who have been risking their lives to sustain our communities. Others are the restaurant workers, salon workers, and domestic workers who have lost their jobs and incomes and face a harsh reality with little or no safety net.
Over the past several weeks, the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd, have, yet again, highlighted the persistent brutality of anti-Black racism in this country. Closer to home, on June 3rd, Jamel Floyd, an African American man, was killed by officers at the Metropolitan Detention Center, a notorious federal facility in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.
In our city, in our country, and around the world, people are rising up.
There is a long history of adult educators and students linking adult education to movements for racial and economic justice, and renewing that vision is at the core of the LAC’s Literacy & Justice Initiative. Adult literacy programs can provide the space for community members to read, write, and speak the truth of their lived experience; to critically interrogate the social, political, and economic discourse and institutions that impact their lives; and to engage in collective action with others in their community to confront and transform oppressive systems.
Through the Literacy & Justice Initiative, the LAC is committed to supporting community-based adult literacy programs to directly connect classroom instruction to systemic change by:
This past year, I have been participating in regular meetings of White executive directors who are examining issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, implicit bias, and institutionalized racism within nonprofit organizations and discussing how to incorporate anti-racist practices. As the LAC moves forward, I am committed to focusing more on these issues and practices personally, and the LAC as a whole is committed to bringing a racial justice lens to all of our programming, advocacy, and internal organizational development work.
The denial of educational opportunities for people of color has always been a tool of subjugation in this country: whether it was making it a crime to teach enslaved Africans how to read or write English; the under-resourcing of schools for African Americans in the Jim Crow south and the segregated north; the persistent under-resourcing of schools in communities of color today; or the limited funding and access to adult basic education, ESOL, and high school equivalency classes, which keep immigrants and those who have already been denied a quality education in the United States in vulnerable and marginalized positions. And for decades, so-called “literacy tests” were used as a tool for the disenfranchisement of African Americans.
Significant federal legislation for adult literacy education was a product of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, and the fight to expand funding and access to adult education today must be rooted in the broader movement for educational equity and racial justice. It is time for all of us in the field of adult literacy education to listen to the calls from Black and Brown communities, commit to long term transformative work, and align our work to the movements on the ground.