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

Rachel Slaughter
 | Jul 12, 2017

African American DadsA 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.

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 encourage their involvement in literacy programs.
  • Invite African American dads to share their stories. A father who didn’t like reading as a young person may still show a reluctance for reading as an adult. Invite fathers to the classroom to tell stories and share experiences. In my work as a literacy leader, I was able to find male relatives of a former 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 ask 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. 

Rachel SlaughterRachel Slaughter is a doctoral candidate specializing in literacy education at Widener University in Pennsylvania. Her research interest centers on promoting reading in African American males with the help of African American males as reading role models.

Rachel Slaughter will present a session titled “Add African American Dads to your Literacy Programs and Watch Magic Happen” at the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits, held in Orlando, FL, July 15–17. For more information, download the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits app or visit

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