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Add African American Dads to your Literacy Programs and Watch Magic Happen

Sep 08, 2021 10:00AM ● By Dr. R. A. Slaughter
Black father and son reading togther indoors with canvas play tent in background

A boy’s father is his first hero. Not only does the son look up to his father as his role model, but he also looks to his father for guidance. A child watches his father’s every move. He is watching when the father is aware. He is watching when the father is not aware. Sons imitate their fathers far more often than fathers wish to admit.

For children, actions speak louder than words. In schools where African American boys may show little to no interest in reading, imitation can be a positive force in their reading success. As the world celebrates International Literacy Day, concerned citizens must turn their attention to the low literacy rates in many states.  Perhaps we can follow the United Nations’ charge of finding new literacy strategies for the nation’s Black youth by fostering reading role models.

Research shows that a boy who has a father as a reading role model during his early literacy years is more likely to develop the behaviors of a literate person. This fact creates a powerful charge for a father as a reading role model. Although a father who promotes reading can change his son’s entire future, some boys lack father figures in their homes. School administrators and literacy leaders can still reap the benefits of Black male reading role models by adding African American dads to their literacy programs at schools. School administrators and literacy leaders can celebrate the idea that Black  male students can identify with other Black males who are willing to serve as reading role models.

Below are three simple ideas to get started:

  • Promote the idea of community. In the book Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Spiegel & Grau), Coates explores the "beautiful burden" an African American father has in educating his son. This beautiful burden is one the entire male community can shoulder. Reach out to the dads in your community to garner their support of the “reading role model” initiative.

  • Invite African American dads to share their stories. A father who didn’t like reading as a young person may show a reluctance for reading as an adult. Invite fathers to the classroom to simply tell stories and share experiences. As the teacher, find books and articles that mirror the recounted experiences for the Black readers to enjoy as a follow-up to the program.

  • Survey the community: In my work as a literacy leader, through surveys and conversations, I was able to find amazing and historical figures or their relatives. For example, members of my school community included relatives of a Harlem Globetrotter, a Tuskegee airman, and a Buffalo soldier. These men shared stories that were passed down to them by these great men in history. As the literacy leader, I found books that dovetailed these experiences and asked the guests to read them to the class as side dishes to their stories.

  • Promote literacy through short pieces. Poetry is a fun form of expression. Hold a poetry slam night and promote the likes of Gil Scott-Heron, Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, and Countee Cullen. And don’t overlook our contemporaries like Tupac Shakur and Will Smith. Men tend to be attracted to short literary pieces that pack big punches.

You can access the content you need for themed literacy programs on sites such as The Poetry Foundation, Poem Hunter, and All Poetry. In order to find the men in your community who wish to get involved in your literacy program, distribute a survey. Celebrate the volunteers by promoting them on your literacy website. It doesn't hurt to offer food, either! With a little effort, a literacy leader can fill the literacy program with dads who are eager and willing to share their stories. 

This article is made in collaboration with Broke in Philly.


(Photo credit: Chelsea Slaughter)

 Dr. R. A. Slaughter earned her doctoral degree in Cognitive Studies in Reading at Widener University. Her dissertation explores multicultural literature in private schools through the lens of Critical Pedagogy. Two of her books include Turning the Page: The Ultimate Guide for Teachers to Multicultural Literature, published by Rowman & Littlefield, and Daddy, REAd to Me published by Literacy University. To contact Dr. Slaughter, log onto