Ginger Young, Book Harvest Founder and Executive Director
This piece aired as a commentary on WCHL 97.9 FM on April 10, 2014. Click here to listen.
Ben is a third grade boy I know who comes from a home where money is tight and food is scarce. He arrives at a classroom each day which is overcrowded, taught by teachers who are underpaid and under attack by our elected officials. Everyone in Ben’s world is working hard to do right by him, but they sure aren’t given much to work with.
I am the founding director of a nonprofit serving children like Ben. Book Harvest provides tools to help Ben achieve academic success; those tools in my case come in the form of books. But they could just as easily be in the form of plentiful nutritious food, or a living wage for his hardworking mom, or a mentor to help him with his homework.
Book Harvest is nonpartisan, but it is increasingly challenging for me, as a citizen of our community and our state, to refrain from speaking out about the systemic ways that Ben and his peers are being shortchanged every day. North Carolina is a state divided neatly into two camps: the haves and the have nots. They play by different sets of rules, and our expectations for them are completed different. These expectations are borne out time and again by actual results: Ben and his low-income peers will be lucky to graduate from high school, and they stand an incredibly slim chance of graduating from college, no matter how hard they work or play by the rules. Their higher income peers in Chapel Hill? Well, I’m not the only one who assumes they will go to – and complete – college.
Ben deserves more tools in his toolkit. So do each and every one of his classmates who, like him, navigate a world of scarcity and low expectations every day. We are letting them down. It is time for all of us – including and especially our elected officials – to start providing more tools for Ben. For my part, I am going to make sure that he has the same tools, the same wealth of books at home that my kids had growing up, even if the rest of his world is impoverished. If a poor kid’s bookshelves look the same as a wealthier kid’s, I am betting that he just might have a shot at beating the odds.
I know one thing for sure: all those books are going to fuel Ben’s imagination, and to help him dream big. But just imagine for a moment how tragic it will be if Ben dares to dream and the system shuts him out of a bigger, better life.
And that’s where you come in. If the prospect of Ben’s dashed hopes upsets you as much as it does me, then put your own passions to work to help fill Ben’s toolkit. There are countless ways to do that, some direct and some not. If you think our elected officials are giving our educators a raw deal, get involved in voter registration and in campaigns of candidates who actually believe in investing in our teachers. If hunger relief speaks to you, volunteer at one of the excellent food pantries in our community. If you love working one-on-one with kids, become a tutor, a big brother, or a big sister. I could list about 25 other ways to give Ben and his peers the tools they need to have a chance at reaching their dreams. There’s something on that list for every one of us. Ben and his peers deserve no less.
None of our children chose to be born into poverty, and they didn’t choose to go to stressed, underresourced schools. They are doing their best with what we’ve handed them. We are better than this.
With more than half of North Carolina’s students now coming from low-income households, we all face formidable obstacles in giving our kids the quality education they deserve. But we can overcome these obstacles in many ways, large and small, that directly lift up North Carolina’s underserved children and rewrite their prospects for success. And that is good for all of us.
Let’s get out our own toolkits and get to work.