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Literacy as a Human Right

As a reader, I was a late bloomer. It was not until i was confined- a story for another time- that I learned to love to read. I read everything I could find in order to escape the monotony of being in a room, alone, in silence. A very good byproduct of an otherwise useless punishment.

This informs my lifelong attachment to all human beings in isolation, in custody, in confinement. Many from such circumstances are very well read if they have access to books. Magazines. Letters. Anything. It is the beginning of decoding- of "reading the world. " Most prisoners I know say that books saved their lives. My obsession with books has saved my life during quarantine . Reading anything- prologue, epilogue, indices, liner notes. An orgy of company long gone, books with inscriptions from the giver, others from the authors or both.

I found myself elated at the gas pump on E. Jefferson the other night when it was too cold and too dark for any reasonable person to be pumping gas in The Motor City. But there, on the pump was a word- on the tv screens that are now ubiquitous in every possible public space- on the pump- a dictionary definition of a word. The word happened to be "juncture." It had the dictionary pronunciations and definition with it. Instead of a product being subliminally pushed on us while being captive pumping gas, there was a word. How to say it. What it means. I can't explain being giddy at such a simple but profound development. Subversive literacy.

This past week, a group of community residents held a press conference at the Bowen Branch Library. There were several people in attendance at the shuddered library. Closed for Covid, but we know it can be closed for good. We have been down this road before. It is a radical act to demand answers from elected officials, even if they do not know the answers because they don't really govern. The banks do. Always the banks. They are often disguised as developers, non profits, philanthropists, realtors, but they are the bank. The Bank. That Bank that took our pensioners' futures; the Bank that closed our schools. The Bank that put dog parks and bike lanes in our city without a word to anyone. The Bank that will demolish the public housing in Corktown; the Bank that will give us grants to fix up our houses if we qualify and go through all the necessary steps. Billions in tax captures and abatements while throwing grants at grateful residents. Race rules all of it. Make no mistake; these developments coming to our city are for- by- and about white people. Building them, selling them, buying them.

What does any of this have to do with literacy? How will we know if we are being lied to? How do we know when to challenge an answer? Or even when to ask a question? How do we know what question to ask?

Had I not had the Kafkaesque experience of serving on the Detroit School Board under Emergency Management ( a public act which stripped all majority Black cities in Michigan of their right to govern themselves, giving all power to one person who had full immunity and no oversight- as in Flint, where the water was poisoned, in Benton Harbor where the public park was handed off to a developer, in Detroit, the Grand Bargain for Bankers took our water, our pensions, our Belle Isle, our libraries and schools and stripped them of all value and handed them back to us when "democracy was restored " and there was nothing left.

Had I not with my own eyes witnessed Governor Snyder lie to a Congressional Committee about the Flint water, lie to his counterpart /bankruptcy Judge Rhodes about Detroit Public Schools, I would not have known to challenge the closing of the libraries.

Bowen Branch will not be closed, according to an Instagram posting sent out by the Commission today.

When certain voices urge caution about "sounding alarms," it's clear the alarm is late. When there is no accountability and no transparency and certain voices warn us not to respond to rumors, it's clear there is reason to be alarmed. After all, what else have we got to do when everyone is quarantined and there's nothing opened and so many people are furloughed. Why not raise hell? What do we have to lose? Or gain? Let's keep reading. Keep writing, Keep gathering and if you hear something, say something. Keep the pressure up so we don't lose our libraries.

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