The pandemic, protests, and the impact on literacy
Comments from Executive Director Cindy Threlkeld
I attended a candlelight vigil last Saturday evening at Pack Square that began with a Story Circle. The mostly white crowd listened quietly as young protesters described their experience of being Black in Asheville and their hopes, expectations, and demands for a more equitable future. Two hand-made signs captured my attention: “White Silence is Violence” and “Racism is the Pandemic”.
The wave of protests and expression of rage at the murder of George Floyd and the legacy of racism it represents has now spread across the globe. The protests are a necessary awakening, but they will eventually quiet down. Will this time be different? Will we continue with the hard work required to create a more equitable world?
The Literacy Council intends to do its part. Access to literacy is a social justice issue. Along with race, literacy is a primary determinant of health, employment, and income level. For reasons too complex to briefly describe, people of color are disproportionately represented among those who struggle with low literacy. People of color are also at greater risk for COVID19.
In the wake of the pandemic, our programs in Adult and Youth Literacy and English for Speakers of Other Languages will be challenged in new ways. We will need to address the growing disparity among those who struggle with low literacy to help them adjust to distance learning, when many are without access to the internet and/or without basic digital literacy skills.
We are working hard to be able to meet the challenge. Here is how:
- We will resume tutor training, with most of it online for now. It’s not just a matter of putting what we have done in the past online. We also must create curricula for tutors to use with their students in ways that are accessible and easy to implement. No small task!
- We will hire a half-time outreach and communications coordinator to help us recruit more tutors, with an emphasis on reaching out to diverse communities (see separate announcement).
- We will continue the Social Justice Workshops facilitated by the Rainbow Institute that were underway prior to the shutdown. They were initially offered to Board, staff, and Literacy Council tutors, but could be opened up and extended to more people, if interested.
Toward the end of the newsletter, there is a list of resources and ideas for personal actions you can take to join us in creating a more equitable and just community. It is essential that we maintain hope for the future. Listening to the young Black leaders at the vigil and seeing the mostly young white faces in the crowd restored that hope in me.