The Audacity of Hope

This week, this country bid farewell to Barack Obama – our 44th President.  There have been hundreds (thousands?) of articles paying tribute to the country’s first African American president.  This week, I don’t plan to compete with them :)

Barack Obama.jpg

Since the election, I have been re-reading Obama’s book The Audacity of Hope, re-watching his many state-of-the-union addresses, and re-living his convention speeches.  Over and over again, I have returned back to the following passage from Obama’s speech in Philadelphia during the 2008 race:

I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton's Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I've gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world's poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners — an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.

In no other country on Earth is my story even possible.

So it is that on this Friday, January 20th, on the inauguration of our 45th President, that I am choosing to be thankful.  I am thankful that we can bear witness to a peaceful transition of power from two diametrically different people.  I am thankful that for most of my time in the US, I have had leaders and mayors that I value, respect, admire and would have voted for.  I am thankful that I live in a country that values democracy in a world where every vote does not count.  I am thankful that the opportunities that made Barack Obama our President are the same opportunities that my father offered to me when he came to Canada as a refugee, fleeing a dictatorship.

And I am thankful today, and every day, to work for this organization and serve our 2,200 students and 120+ villages and communities.  Teaching our youngest citizens how to read and write nurtures the bedrock of our democracy, and I am blessed to have the opportunity to help in that process.

I have hope that the democracies from developing countries, like Zambia, will come to take the center stage and provide a voice for the most marginalized citizens of the world. I have hope that I will live to see many more leaders and mayors that I value, respect, admire and would vote for. And I have hope that the story of Barack Obama will become less exceptional as our world becomes increasingly flat.  As President Obama put it, I have the audacity of hope.


Literacy means freedom

Over 33 years ago, Reading Rainbow aired for the first time to children across America to encourage them to read.  It was the first of its kind – each episode centered on a theme from a book, and it aimed to bring a love of learning to each household. I remember watching Reading Rainbow as a child, and being entranced by its host, LeVar Burton.

LeVar Burton.jpg

Burton grew up in Southern California to a mom who was a social worker and educator, and a father who was a photographer for the US Army.  He learned to love books from his mother who would both read to her children and lead by example by reading for her own enjoyment too. While Burton initially enrolled in seminary to become a priest, he left as a teenager and enrolled at the University of Southern California. He made his acting debut in the drama series Roots, where he played a young Kunta Kinte.  From 1983 to 2006, Burton was the host and executive producer for Reading Rainbow, taking his viewers on adventures through real and imagined worlds, often narrated by other celebrities.

When Reading Rainbow went off the air a decade ago, Burton reimagined his beloved TV show into an iPad app and educational aid, with the mission “of bringing a passion for reading to Every Child, Everywhere.”  In an interview with Think Progress, LeVar Burton said:

You need to teach your children how to read, and you need for them to love to read. If you want free, independent thinkers, people who can discern for themselves, people who want to actively participate in a democracy, you want them literate. If you want to control people, if you want to feed them a pack of lies and dominate them, keep them ignorant. For me, literacy means freedom. For the individual and for society.

Literacy means freedom.  Literacy specifically increases job opportunities and access to further educational opportunities; literate individuals earn 30%-40% more than their illiterate counterparts across the globe. Illiteracy costs the global economy more than USD $1 trillion dollars each year, and at least one in five people worldwide struggle with illiteracy.  This is not just a responsibility that we place on our teachers alone at Impact Network.  We are a team – it is ALL of our responsibilities to make sure that our students are reading and writing at an appropriate level.  Teacher supervisors are supporting each and every teacher in our system. Our admin staff in Zambia make sure that we have the school supplies, appropriate infrastructure, and resources to make our schools effective.  Our team in the US ensures that we have the funding coming in to keep our schools running and support our team in Zambia.  Every day, we are making strides in teaching our Impact scholars how to read, and investing in their education.  And while it remains a battle to fight in the US, there’s even more work to be done in the rural communities where we are working.  Let’s get to it.