UIC Reading Clinic Hosts Literacy Workshop for Boys in Justice System

July 14, 2015

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In Illinois, 85 percent of boys in the juvenile justice system read at low levels of literacy.

“Literacy is a tool of protection,” says Alfred Tatum, PhD, Dean of the College (right).  “It allows you to shape positive life outcome trajectories and stop foreclosure of outcomes related to strong reading, writing and mathematical skills.

“If you don’t have literacy, you are at the whims of others in society.”

To address this gap, the College and UIC Reading Clinic invited boys from the Cook County Temporary Juvenile Detention Center to the UIC campus for a day of reading, writing and leadership development to strengthen the literacy tools of boys in the Chicagoland juvenile justice system.  The “Leadership JITSU Re-Entry Club Field Trip,” co-sponsored by UIC CHANCE, the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice and the Young Men’s Leadership JITSU Re-Entry Club.  The event featured workshops on mentoring and leadership, a keynote address from Jamila Rashid, PhD, Master of Public Health ’90, the executive director of the UIC Urban Health Program, and an exchange of reading and writing with Tatum.

Boys read and reflected on Tatum’s writings, while he did the same with their own writings.

“I try to identify kernels of humanity in their writing and discuss the threads that bind, how their writing relates to a broader historical lineage of how Black men have written,” Tatum said. “It was clear in their writing they were defining themselves, they were seeking resilience in their writing.”

Tatum says his goal was to take this deeply personal and emotional writing and couple it with intellectual soundness, to lead the boys towards writing from both an emotional space and a cognitive space.  While each boy’s story was unique, Tatum guided the boys to view their writings through the lens of a broader story of young Black men in today’s society.

“I wanted the young men to have a powerful experience, not just engage in some frivolous activity,” Tatum said. “It needed to be an experience where you can be in control of your writing through text.”

From a broader perspective, Tatum sees opportunities for engagement between the College and boys in the juvenile justice system as a way to interrupt and reverse the school to prison pipeline.  He seeks to create a post release education pathway program to create a prison to school pipeline.  This early collaboration with the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice and other social work-oriented organizations is laying the framework for broader, more comprehensive efforts that link to education as a tool for strengthening life trajectories.

“If we look at some of the barriers to progress and success, for students who become involved in the criminal justice system, their life experiences can be fundamentally soured inside of schools that contribute to this school to prison pipeline,” Tatum said.