ENGL 11100 - 016
To the girl with plaits and barquette in her hair, whose dad read her to the stars, and magical places: you learned and excelled.
The literacy that means the most to me is simple but one I do not take for granted. Literacy means reading and analyzing to understand what the author meant to convey. It is that key concept that defines literacy to me since it is that understanding that leads to dreaming. Without knowing how to read, you miss that concept. When I was a kid, I loved the storytelling aspect of literature. I loved routine, so reading the same books repeatedly helped me develop my skills to find the meaning of books.
My childhood was bright. It was filled with laughter and warmth. Sundays were special since it started my family’s weekly routine. We would have church service in the morning where my mom dressed me in big puffy dresses that were itchy to the skin and white socks with shiny black shoes. After church, I would come home and play, losing track of time but around evening time, I always heard a familiar sound. Around six-thirty every night the faucet turned on, the squeaking noise of the knob and rush of water signified me to start whining, “Mom, just one more hour! I won’t be tired if I stay up, I promise!” Regardless of my whining, my mom would yell, “Kendra Marie, go take a bath.” After surrendering to my mom, I would climb the stairs and turn right into my bathroom. My excitement soon returned because I realized after my bath, I would get a bedtime story. Even though I hated to stop playing, I loved my night routine. It always was calming and made me feel loved. After getting changed into my cozy pink princess pajamas, my dad would ask the question: “What book tonight?” Some nights I would change it up and would grab something new but often I got Dancing in the Wings by Debbie Allen. The story is faded in my memory now, but I still remember the plot. The story is about a girl whose dream is it to go to Washington, D.C. and be a ballerina for a top dance company there. She achieves her dreams by dedicating herself to her craft.
Around that same time, my family moved. It was a huge change for me; coming from a minority town to being the only Black kid in my school was hard. No one looked like me, talked like me, or shared similar experiences with me. On top of that, I was performing badly academically. Suddenly, I felt I was not enough. The stories my dad read to me meant nothing if I did not feel as smart as the other kids. For the first time in my life, I was told I was not reading at the level I should have been, and my standardized test scores were below average, which was surprising since I had always been told I was right on track. I was overwhelmed since I was not taught how to analyze passages and was expected to know how to. I was placed in a class designed to help kids who needed extra help with reading and writing. At first, I was skeptical. I was embarrassed to be pulled out of class to get extra help. But after several icebreakers and lots of candy, I realized it was not too bad. I started to love going to that class. Ms. Jessie used to come to my class before our lessons; I would hear the jingle of her bracelets before she walked through my classroom door. She smelled like cinnamon and always wore red lipstick. Throughout my time in her class, we read and analyzed passages. She would ask me questions about what I was reading and what the author meant. She pushed me to read in between the lines and not circle the “obvious” answers, but the complex ones. It was less about the story of the passages but the meaning of them. Even though I hated standardized testing, I started to do better and better. The day came when I had outgrown her teachings, and I had to return to regular classes, but I never forgot her lessons.
While in middle school and high school, I had a love-hate relationship with literature. The books I had to read in school often were dated and uninterested me. My love for reading went away and I lost the ability to dream. I read to complete assignments. I was frustrated since I knew how to analyze and how to identify the correct answers to my assignments, but I had lost the ability to dream. There was the occasional dystopian or historical fiction book that caught my interest, but I would have to say school sucked the fun out of reading for me. There was no dreaming in this period of my life. I got too caught up in the assignment and deadlines. There was nothing attached to it, no purpose or emotion. Around 2020, during the height of the pandemic, I was bored out of my mind. I decided to wander around my house listening to music and I happened to stumble upon my childhood copy of Dancing in the Wings. When I held it, I could feel the impressions my father’s hands had made on the book. I flipped through the pages and went back to when I was a little girl. I heard the tone of my father’s voice and remembered Ms. Jessie’s lessons. Intermixed was the message of the book, and I had remembered what it felt like to dream — to be in a setting alongside the characters and gain something deeper from reading. I was reconnected with dreaming. To me, dreaming means to be transported somewhere free of judgement and allow yourself to be whoever you want to be.
To know the message of an author and feel with them is the greatest literacy I have gained. It has been developed in diverse ways, and in many cases, it has allowed me to have an outlet to dream about universes where little girls can become ballerinas, where Shahrazad falls in love with her captor, where Gatsby gets trapped in his idea of the American dream. Once you understand what writers are saying, you can open the world they have invented and insert yourself in it. Often in my mind, I am somewhere else. I am with the characters; I am living their life rather than my own. There is a small window that readers can slip into if they really try. Nothing else matters, all your problems slip away, and it feels like you are not even reading anymore. The quotes around words become distinct voices which go through life. They are not telling a story but fulfilling a prophecy. Learning how to analyze and rediscovering how to dream was a lesson worth waiting for, since it has taught me so much along the way.
That foundation from my father and mentor gave me the love for reading and the confidence I needed to read. Through the process of learning, I realized analyzing makes me a stronger student, but it also helps me to escape from reality allowing me to dream. It makes me think about reality in a new light. Whether I am reading a novel, poem, or listening to an album, I connect with artists and their stories. That is why I excelled in school. I can connect with characters on a deeper level. Sometimes I find myself watching from the wings, but more often I am on stage with the characters and dancing alongside them.