Dance Mogul Magazine had the opportunity to inspire self-empowerment in a different way this month. We had the honor of talking with the National Ambassador for the Magic Johnson Foundation “Dr. Marco Clark” as he continues the nationwide fight for literacy for our children. As printed media, we felt that this topic was imperative to share with our global audience. We must pay attention to the national problems in our own backyard before they grow into worldwide problems. We hope the words of Dr.Clark encourages you to get proactive in helping give the next generation a fighting chance.
Dance Mogul: When did you notice that literacy was a major issue in our communities?
Dr.Clark: Along with the environment the most single cause for our socioeconomic demise is due to the high rate of illiteracy in our Black communities. Almost 90% of Black children in America can’t read at all! Working as an educator and community activist I noticed Black children were lacking the very basics of education which is knowing how to read. They were being robbed at an early age and adults like you and me in their lives had failed to teach them what the sounds of the letters in the alphabet make, or how to blend letters together and pronounce words properly to then be able to understand what they’re reading. Everything else we try to teach our children would come more easily if we started by teaching them how to read! Too many times their lack of skills in reading manifests itself in bad behavior, excessive absenteeism, very poor grades, high teen pregnancy rates, and dropout rates. For most children, the light bulb goes out in the 5th grade because if they cannot read by the 3rd grade the chances of those children becoming successful in academia or anything else in life is highly unlikely. There are no more reading instructions after the 3rd grade and every year that a child is behind only 1 in 8 catch up to excel along with his or her peers. They are failing and the system is not doing anything to save them. I refuse to be another person who looks the other way.
Dance Mogul: How did the issue grow to this magnitude?
Dr.Clark: Society has found a way to eliminate our Black children from the competition of using the resources available to them in such a great country as America. Schools have either no inclination or no additional resources to provide the needed intense one on one training a child who is behind in reading needs to become an achiever. They have been indoctrinated to believe that reading starts in the home and they can support the child through homework and class lessons, but the child should be equipped with the basics first. Sadly, parents oftentimes through no fault of their own don’t understand the importance of reading and put little to no effort into their child learning how to read before they start elementary schooling. Parents think the school is responsible for installing this task and the schools say it’s the parent’s responsibility. Essentially the only losing party is the child and this continues daily. There is an epidemic going on in our communities and running rampant in our school hallways called “illiteracy,” but the good news is that it has a cure. The question is will our communities be perceptive enough to transcend in this movement.
Dance Mogul: How did you connect with the Magic Johnson Foundation to help combat these issues?
Dr.Clark: As founder and principal of Richard Wright Public Charter School for Journalism and Media Arts in Washington, D.C. in the 7th ward, I face these challenges more than most and I’m in the trenches fighting for our children every day. My journey has been a long one from personally struggling with literacy issues at a young age and throughout my school years until college when a professor recognized my reading comprehension deficiencies and aided me, to finally surpassing those obstacles and becoming an educator. I have gained many great accolades from having my school be the only institute in Washington, D.C. to be invited to the White House by the first lady Michelle Obama and then invited back this spring by President Obama as an honoree, to recently having Richard Wright PCS named one of the top ten schools in Washington, D.C. for showing tremendous achievements in reading and math. ESSENCE did a full-page spread on the educational attributes I pose and I have spoken on stage with greats like Dr. Bill Cosby and Gregory Dick. I believe since I have made many triumphs in the betterment of our Black children in education that my hard work and tenacity allied me with the Magic Johnson Foundation to become their National Ambassador for Literacy.
Dance Mogul: How does an organization go about starting their own reading centers?
Dr.Clark: For Richard Wright PCS the evolution of our reading center came quickly. We started testing the children when they first enrolled to gauge their areas of deficiencies in reading and then incorporated daily intensive training with the TestOurKids.com software within their class schedules to start rectifying the issue of illiteracy that before was left unattended. We now have a beautiful brand new reading center lab powered by TestOurKids.com where students not only take daily lessons on the software but come at other times to continue practicing in their reading. That’s how TestOurKids.com assists organizations besides schools to open and operate their own reading center. They empower individuals with the training, the evaluation software and daily lessons in order to facilitate the learning process. TestOurKids.com recommends your organization start small with 5 to 10 children at first because the goal is to have 100% improvement for each child participating. TestOurKids.com then evaluates all the children in their reading with an 8 point system test and from there demonstrates how to work with the software and teaches a child how to read. The organization would need a small space to work from, 1 to 2 computers because the training is computerized, 1 facilitator and 1 director to monitor day to day improvements while offering encouragement to the children as they learn with the software.
Dance Mogul: How do you get parents and kids involved, with so many things to distract them nowadays like the advancement of technology?
Dr.Clark: The amazing part of TestOurKids.com is that the software is animated and computerized so by incorporating the very technology that has their attention practically all day, they don’t distinguish the fun aspects from the learning aspects of the software. There are many reading learning software out there, but the reason why I use TestOurKids.com is the ease of usage and the constant customer support I receive. It’s all a joint effort and when you have this form of support the difficult moments don’t seem so impossible. Another great moment is when a parent sees the chances in their child’s overall appearance, attitude and academic performance they want to become more involved. I believe parents don’t really understand “your child cannot read and no one is going to teach your child to read.” I ask them “if they haven’t taught your child by now to read and they are going into middle school, when do you think they will? We need to be frank with parents and most of them understand the urgency and get on board with making sure their child is taking the lessons seriously.
Dance Mogul: Do you see a united effort being put together to address this nationwide from a grassroots level?
Dr.Clark: Honestly no. I don’t know if the Black community is not aware or is distracted by unimportant things, but our Black children continue to fail and without knowing how to read they will not be successful, they will not have an easy life and their options will be minimal when they become adults. I ask myself regularly what it will take to embarrass the Black community to take action, but if having almost 90% of Black children not reading at grade level is normality then I don’t know what will. When you ask a principal of a dominantly Black school what the scores of their children reading at grade level is and they can’t formulate an answer it’s because they could care less and we need to bond together as a community and take a stand. Our Black children are being robbed and I don’t care who started it, but let’s not let it continue.
Dance Mogul: Any words of encouragement for those in the community that wants to help but don’t know how?
Dr.Clark: Stop believing that someone will come along to save you or your children. That somehow because you live in America you’re entitled to quality schools and way of living because if you haven’t been paying attention we do not have equality. As strong Black individuals, we have to say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH and ensure the next generation will know how to read so that they have a chance to become successful. We need to prepare our children with the ability to do better than the circumstance they were given without fault of their own. Join together and start your own reading center, make the next step and stop asking for handouts that have not been forthcoming for a while now. We can do better and we need to start doing it now. Visit www.TestOurKids.com to learn more about starting your own reading center or call 860.997.6802.