My International Literacy Day Diary

Keeping it real, I didn’t remember today was International Literacy Day but social media did its work alerting me.

Happy International Literacy Day.

It dates back to 1967, per UNESCO, and is meant to highlight literacy as “a matter of dignity and human rights, and to advance the literacy agenda towards more literate and sustainable society.” This year’s theme is “transforming literacy learning spaces”.

I’m thinking of three things in relation to this theme (or the day generally) –

1, making literacy places inclusive in all ways. This week, in Antigua, a kindergartner was reportedly sent home because of her loc’d hair (her neatly ribboned loc’d hair). In St. Lucia, a third former was sent home because his fro was considered too high (it wasn’t). It put me in mind of when my nephew started a local secondary school and was made to cut off his hair. It didn’t miss my nephew’s notice that the military cut required of Black boys didn’t apply to non-Black boys equally at his school.

Interestingly, because Black boys have been going through this ever since, there is a scene in my first book that is unfortunately resonant here.

He got into trouble on his first day because of his long hair.  He’d let his hair grow out over the summer and the school principal, Brother English, was having none of that.

            He bent Vere over a desk in his office and applied a couple of blows to his backside with a ruler.  He told Vere he’d get more of the same for each day he came back with his hair like that.  Brother English said he didn’t want any radicals or rastas or other such future bums in his school. 

from The Boy from Willow Bend by Joanne C. Hillhouse

And that’s one way Black children learn that their Black hair is bad. Parents want their children to learn, so they don’t fight – as parents used to say in my day “me cyaan teach you”; the school rules must be abided by (no matter if they were discriminatory). Some parents aren’t flexing like that any more though. The mother who reported that she was told by the school’s principal to shave her kindergartener’s locs and the parent of the twins who saw one discriminated against for a few inches of kinky hair posted their children’s pictures on social media drawing attention to the issue and, at least in Antigua, it resulted in much conversation and statements from the Cabinet and Ministry of Education, and all I can hope is that come the start of the next school year we won’t be adding another chapter to the stigmatizing of Black hair. This shouldn’t even be a conversation, your hair isn’t good or bad how it comes out of your head but historically – due, in our case to colonialism, and global anti-Blackness, including internalized anti-Blackness – it is still a thing. Even in majority Black countries.


2, Financial literacy. I know this is about books and reading and that October is Financial Literacy month in the Eastern Caribbean, but if anything requires a start-early educational re-set. Where I come from, working class Antigua, the main form of savings and investments was Box – a number of people putting money in and getting their “hand” on a schedule. This and the GOAT level “cut and contrive” mentality of especially the women in our communities provided much of the education in an environment marked by lack and hope. Generational wealth isn’t just about handing down money but other kinds of intangible inheritances related to money – including a greater ease with money or finance. So, I do think that blank spots in terms of how money works and how to grow wealth exist, as well as emotions like uncertainty and shame around money issues. There is a foundation that needs to be built from very young especially for those who have not systemically benefited within the financial infrastructure.

3, a fun one. Today, I took New Daughters of Africa (hardcover edition) on my morning walk. You might remember that this book is 800+ pages so it’s thick-thick but since I committed to presenting on it at the Antigua and Barbuda Conference in October, like I said, the clock is ticking and so it’s become my walking around book. Literally. Which means I was literally walking with weights. Or one fairly hefty weight. And I got through two more of the book’s 200+ writers. How’s that for commitment to International Literacy Day?

That’s the paperback of New Daughters of Africa on the table next to my books Musical Youth and Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure at the Sharjah International Book Fair in 2019.

What’s that you say? You want an excerpt?

“Dionne felt the door close on anything substantial between her and Trevor, but then also the urgency of their closeness in the moment. Dionne knew that any man whose life was already decided for him couldn’t be hers. But here, where her spirit felt only halfway home, anchorless without Avril, she wanted something familiar to be close to, somewhere to land.” – from “from The Star Side of Bird Hill” by Naomi Jackson in New Daughters of Africa.

Enjoy your day; read something and, if you can, gift someone (especially a child) a book. You can gift them one of mine if you wish.

And if you’re looking for something to read for free, there’s a new CREATIVE SPACE here on the blog.

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