Building bridges and breaking boundaries: Exploring African American male literacy

“Where there is a will, there is a way.” –Tupac

For those who may not know, Tupac Amaru Shakur was a major proponent of literacy. However, many young African American males do not share Tupac’s passion for reading and writing. A recent report explains that much of the discourse regarding literacy and African American male youth focuses on raising test scores and closing the purported achievement gap but contends that literacy plays a much larger role. Specifically, literacy “is connected to intellectual growth, agency, voice, identity, resiliency, resolve and a positive life trajectory.”

Dr. Sandra Hughes-Hassell

Dr. Sandra Hughes-Hassell, a professor in the School of Information and Library Science at UNC-Chapel Hill, coordinates UNC’s school library media program. In June 2012, Dr. Hughes-Hassell organized the Building a Bridge to Literacy summit at the Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill, NC. The summit focused on three areas: Research (what is known about the literacy development and needs of African-American male youth and additional gaps that need to be filled); Programs & Services (what programs and services work to support the literacy needs of African-American male youth and what gaps exist); and Resources (what resources are needed to enable school and public libraries to effectively address the literacy needs of African-American male youth). Students from North Carolina Central University’s Centennial Scholars Program, UNC-Charlotte, and one high school student joined literacy and library experts from around the country in an effort to call local communities and libraries to action.

So… what can teachers do to promote literacy?

Summit participants suggest the following action items:

  1. Create and sustain a dialogue between African American male students and their teachers. Be open to their honest evaluations.
  2. Train Black male students to be part of the dia­logue: involve them in advocacy, social action, and educational reform efforts.
  3. Write publishers to demand culturally relevant texts featuring diverse characters, and have your students write as well.
  4. Emphasize writing as an essential element of literacy. Have your students write often, and share your own writing with them.
  5. Do your own action research within your school or classroom. Publish the results to let the educa­tion community know what is working and not working.
  6. Involve parents in the literacy education of their children. Educate them about their role and give them the tools to advocate for change.

For more information on literacy and African American male youth, visit the Building a Bridge to Literacy website.

Researcher bio

Dr. Hughes-Hassell’s research focuses on the information needs and behaviors of urban teenagers. She also researches multicultural literature and its role in the literacy development of children of color and library services and programs for underserved populations. She is currently co-leading a series of professional development workshops for public school librarians in Durham, NC focusing on Alfred Tatum’s book Reading for Their Lives and is the Co-Principal Investigator on a research project funded by an ALA Diversity Grant.


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