by Ginger Young, founder and executive director
Durham is teeming with universities, innovative start-ups, and corporate headquarters; every week, it seems that a hot new restaurant is opening. Amidst the fanfare of what a great community we live in (and the accolades are all deserved!), it is easy to miss a concurrent reality. Thousands of children in our midst are being left out and are facing a double burden: they are growing up in poverty, and they do not have the literacy skills they need to succeed in school and in life.
How inextricably these two factors are linked was made clear with the February 5 release of letter grades for all North Carolina public schools by theDepartment of Public Instruction. The grades aligned with shocking precision along wealth lines: 80% of schools in which 80% or more students qualify for free or reduced lunch received a grade of D or F. More than 90% of the schools in which less than 20% of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch received a grade of A or B.
Durham, where Book Harvest is based, is a community which struggles mightily with the dual challenges of poverty and academic deficiencies. Durham’s poverty rate in 2012 was 19.4%, with a child poverty rate of 27%. In tracts in Durham which include Book Harvest’s Books on Break schools, however, the poverty rate in 2010 ranged from 44.1% to 85%. Thirteen census tracts in Durham had a child poverty rate of 55% or greater; in several, that rate was higher than 80%.
Just how starkly Durham is a city of extremes can be found by looking at median household net worth: in 2009, white household net worth was $113,149; Latino was $6,325; and African American was $5,677 (Pew Research Center: Survey of Income Program and Participation, 2011).
As with all of North Carolina, existing alongside dramatic pockets of poverty in Durham are academic challenges. Only 16% of Durham’s children in poverty passed their grade’s reading test in 2012. In 2013, only 35% of Durham’s third graders were reading at grade level.
What does all this mean for us, and for you? As we at Book Harvest revel in the magic of a good book, and as we work to make that book accessible to a child who needs it, we and our community need to remember the enormous challenges that our young readers face. And we need to keep our goal simple: to ensure that our children growing up in poverty are nonetheless rich with books.
We don’t yet know the extent to which access to books can help our kids do better in school now or change their economic prospects down the road – but it could be a gamechanger. And as long as that is possible, we will continue to provide home libraries for our kids in need. Join us!