How do you define literacy for Black girls?
Black girls are in a position to not only confront gender bias but racial bias and discrimination. The concern over the literacy gap can be effectively addressed by understanding the unique challenges that Black girls face. Each and every child deserves the right to discover the power in critical literacies to not only express identity awareness but address systems of oppression with the confidence to change them if they see fit. While COVID has caused a lot of systems and educational plans to go awry, I think it is important to look at some of the tools and assets we overlooked in our classrooms before this pandemic began, our very students and their unique cultural assets, like hair. Due to the gendered and racially specific challenges that Black girls face, I suggest a framework that caters to this uniqueness. To do so, I suggest a reference to Muhammad (2018) research on a four layered equity model to reframing literacy education. Within the model, identity, skills, intellect and criticality are used as a basis to develop curriculum and methods of instruction. COVID has continued a dangerous narrative for Black people and girls but focusing on identity and criticality within curriculum and instruction can help students not only learn to love reading but interact with the hidden and blunt messages that surround their worlds. Natural hair is being used to promote not only literacy and identity development but according to Dr. Afiya, a psychologist and natural hair enthusiast, an entry point for mental health services. The latter I find particularly necessary as students will need support in their curriculum, from each other through peer to peer mentoring, and the educators to use as many culturally specific tools to thrive in affinity spaces that exist in person, digitally and within their everyday community experiences. When I think of how Hair Love by Matthew Cherry inspired so many Black families in and outside of Los Angeles to open up and have a discussion about mental health, representation, and literacy, it made me have hope that the required text and literatures used in ELA classrooms and beyond might be more encouraged to make sure Black girls can feel seen in their curriculum and understood through modes of instruction. Whether teachers host virtual sister circles or access the countless lesson plans online that use hair as a framework for literacy, it can be an adjustment that empowers the child and teacher while creating a new culture of culturally equitable learning practices. A lot of people within the natural hair community in Los Angeles have expressed wanting to support educators in infusing this into learning if they are open to it. I hope that we can continue these conversations as it has done wonders for the classrooms I’ve noticed embrace this shift.