Reading is Revolutionary

The most revolutionary thing any Black person can do is read. Not obtaining a gun license and purchasing firearms. Not voting. Not becoming financially secure. Not having a family… and to be clear, I think we should do those things and I believe all of those are revolutionary acts in an anti-Black society. And, while Malcolm X said, the most revolutionary thing a Black man can do is build a strong, cohesive family unit, I think he would agree that literacy comes first and helps all other revolutionary acts. As Chris “Citizen” Stewart often reminds us: The Revolution Will Be Literate.

But reading is the most revolutionary act because reading, more than anything else has and will continue to set us free.

Our ancestors were set free once they learned how to read. Those who were enslaved utilized their ability to read to resist their enslavement. Those under the thumb of Jim Crow were able to resist separate and unequally with their feet and in the courts. I was freed of the frustration of living in an anti-Black society.

I made the connection between the circumstances of history and the condition of humanity. My perspective changed and so did my approach to what I am confronted with. I replaced anger with advocacy. I was no longer emasculated; I became empowered. Reading changed my life.

As a student, I hated reading; I didn’t see the value in reading. Sadly, I see the same with some of my students. I’ve witnessed it in my son at times. It’s deflating at times, because I want them to see what I see and know what I know. They have to reach that conclusion for themselves, but thankfully, I can help them get there sooner than I did.

I spend my time not only impressing upon my students and my children the importance of reading but I read with them and we read books that are desired to transform our thinking. We read texts that show us who we are to each other as opposed to the ways we’re seen. I do it because I’ve seen the transformative power reading has. I’ve heard it from the mouths of my students.

They’ve had moments when information jumped off the page and into their consciousness. I’ve seen their eyes when it happened. They then ask questions and after discussion, their eyes return to the pages for further excavation. I’ve had similar moments with my son when reading my book Resistance Stories from Black History for Kids.

He’s looked up from the page and asked questions. He’s shared that he hadn’t learned what’s on the school pages. Like my students, after discussion, he put his head back into the book. To be fair, he’s no bookworm… yet. He does read a bit more these days. But my son has an understanding that reading unlocks information that can make us better people and that view has provided him with a purpose for reading that he didn’t have before.

He’s way ahead of me in that regard.

We live in a world where people are faced with many challenges. Whether it’s securing satisfactory employment, affording healthcare costs, securing access to a fair and equitable education for a child or even ensuring that local representatives do the right thing, we are all challenged by at least one thing.  You want to do something. I want to do something. But it seems helpless at times.

It may not seem revolutionary, but go headhunting for a book.

Find a book that speaks to your circumstances, concerns, dreams or ambitions. Read it and be empowered to act. Tell the young people in your life. Reading changed the lives of the enslaved. Reading changed the lives of the warriors against Jim Crow. Reading can certainly change anyone’s life: at age nine or forty-nine. It’s no wonder why there isn’t a premium place on reading in our society. Because read can inspire, empower and activate.

There’s a reason for the myth that using certain words and getting good grades—by way of reading and writing—is acting white. There’s a reason why books on Black history and Critical Race Theory are being banned in schools. It’s because reading is revolutionary. A tool of revolution maybe a gun, but the impetus for revolution came through enlightenment and that came largely through reading.

If we plan on changing the world for the better, before we carry out a revolution, we must be revolutionary. We must read. Read Ida B. Wells Barnett, Ella Baker, Fanny Lou Hamer, Kimberle Crenshaw, Nikole Hannah-Jones and Angi Porter. Read Carter Woodson, W.E.B. DuBois, Martin King, el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz, Derrick Bell and TaNehisi Coates.

Read the slave narratives, Black newspapers—past and present, Supreme Court rulings and dissents, transcripts from various speeches, and consume media from outside the United States. Read to be informed and therefore take action as an informed individual. This is the revolutionary activity we must see. It’s the revolutionary activity we must teach to young people. It’s the primary revolutionary activity that will free us.

Let us march to freedom, with book in hand.


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