Common Ground: Men needed to instill joys of reading

A unique literacy program is aiming to help young boys avoid the pitfalls of crime by encouraging them to pick up a book, dream and challenge themselves.

Boys to Books Not Bars is heading up efforts in the Baton Rouge area next month to pair mentors and tutors with boys in pre-kindergarten through third grade.

There is one hitch.

“The literacy tutors must be males,” said the Rev. Alexis Alexander, executive director of PREACH and Boys to Books Not Bars. “We want to change the paradigm in many low-income and at-risk communities that ‘real men don’t read’ by recruiting 1,000 male literacy tutors to work one-on-one with an African-American male youth.”

Volunteers will meet an hour each week for 26 weeks to help children master reading and become grade-level proficient, Alexander said.

The idea is to reach children in a fun, nonacademic environment.

The state’s sobering literacy statistics point to the need. Louisiana ranks near the bottom of the 50 states in literacy, and 28 percent of the Baton Rouge population functions at the lowest level of literacy, according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy. In addition, 85 percent of juvenile offenders nationwide have reading difficulties, according to ProLiteracy Worldwide.

Boys to Books Not Bars will host its kickoff reading event at Barnes and Nobles’ Citiplace location on March 29.

And, while they want men to help, the program needs women, too.

“We can use anyone to help with recruiting and holding dictionary and book drives,” she said. Libraries will also play an active part in the program, Alexander said.

The program is scheduled to begin at the end of the school year in the Eden Park community.

Alexander said some of those who have participated in the program in the past were skeptical about reading. They said they didn’t love reading, and that reinforced the same values to their sons or others in their community, Alexander said.

“The single most important determinant of both high school graduation and incarceration is failure to be on grade level by third grade,” said Alexander. “When a child is not excited about the power of words and the doors of literacy are not opened, we all pay the price.”

When our son was small, my husband used to read at least one Bible chapter to him at bedtime. Now 9, our son reads the chapters for himself and is an avid reader. That nightly practice helped reinforce the value of reading, and it gave my son a role model, much as the men who volunteer with Boys to Books Not Bars will become for their charges.Learn more at boystobooksnotbars.bravehost.com.

Chante Dionne Warren is a freelance writer. She can be reached at chantewriter@hotmail.com.