We now all know that Floyd Mayweather may be a poor reader, thanks to 50 Cent’s challenge and radio host Charlamagne Tha God’s co-sign with audible proof of his reading disability. Now what? Chances are, if there are young African-American men in your life, many of them can’t read well either. According to a study from the Nation’s Report Card, only 14 percent of all African-American 8th graders performed at or above a proficient level in reading. And the statistics for boys are even more depressing—they scored, on average, six points lower than the girls. And not being able to read well doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Floyd may have earned millions last year but the millions of little Black boys around the country who fumble through reading aren’t making that kind of cash. And reading levels are a predictor of academic success, (especially when you can’t box like Floyd). Right now, fewer than half of African-American males receive their high school diplomas and less than 5% go on to college. And of course, we know education is a major factor in a person’s life trajectory. The literacy rates of African-American men in this country are directly connected to the fact that the unemployment rate for Black men is twice the rate for white men. Will making Floyd the butt of a national joke encourage young black boys to strengthen their reading skills? Doubtful. It’s more likely to make poor reading skills a source of greater embarrassment. Especially since Floyd’s response to the controversy was to post pay stubs totaling $70 million dollars with the caption: Read This.
Also, the public shaming of literacy is why people DON’T get help for reading…
— Marc Lamont Hill (@marclamonthill) August 22, 2014
If you put the script that Floyd was trying to read into a search engine that measures reading levels, it’s on a ninth-grade reading level. (A sentence like “The Cat In The Hat knows a lot about that,” is on a first-grade reading level). Floyd dropped out of high school in his senior year, more than 20 years ago. So is it really a surprise that he doesn’t read on a ninth-grade level? Let’s use this as an opportunity to turn the attention to the young men in our own lives. Give your sons, brothers and male friends a reading challenge. How well do they do? Are they reading on grade level with no difficulties? How did they score on their national exams? If they’ve graduated from high school, can they read a page from a twelfth-grade level book like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice? Is it funny if your friends or family members struggle with reading? Is it possible that Floyd’s story can inspire us to do something about the other young men in this country who are struggling as well? After the laughter has died down and we’ve all moved on from this story, maybe we can log on to allforgood.org and find a program in our area that needs tutors to help improve the reading levels of the young people in our communities. 50 Cent is not donating $750,000 to support literacy. And Floyd hasn’t come out to supporting the idea of improving reading skills. And no one is dumping ice on their heads in support of raising literacy rates for young African Americans. So what will happen to the other Floyds in this world who are struggling with literacy—and not making $70,000,000 a year? —Aliya S. King