The education level in the district is on an unimaginable decline and many of its residents are attempting to repair the literacy gap between black and white children in the D.C. Public School system.
The lack of role models and guidance seems to be the root of many learning problems for black children. “They have no one to look up to and so they choose to follow in the paths of those who raised them. If you grow up on the streets, all you aspire to become is a pimp, a drug dealer, or worse… nothing at all,” said senior psychology major Danielle Palmer.
The Save our Future Campaign is a program launched by Yaba Baker, author of Just Like Me, Inc. (JLM) children’s books, and The HBCU Network. The purpose of the books is to “give our children a better image of themselves” through positive role models in the books that they read in school when they are young, said Baker, “because we focus too much on the after effects.”
JLM, Inc. has traveled to area “at risk” schools and distributed the series of coloring textbooks. The books are equipped with education information about black scholars, inventors, and true black history that is left out of white black history texts. Baker stated that they entered the schools armed with a goal of educating children about the greatness of black people and targeting the kids who are the hardest to reach. “There’s always that one. But I like that one because I want that one “bad” one to believe me, then he will help sway the whole group,” said Baker.
Of the 50 children in attendance at one of the schools, only three knew of any black inventors. After working with the children and introducing them to the textbooks, one little girl said “I know I can do better in school now.”
The children were given products that inspire little kids and give black children material to use in the future. The books cause the children to realize that if they have confidence in themselves, they can learn to take pride in themselves, their history, and their future.
Baker introduced a character named Princess Brianna into the books for young black females in the district. The character has braids, jewelry, and is an African princess. She attends a summer camp and realizes through a counselor that it is not what is on the outside that makes her beautiful, but what is on the inside. After the character and story were placed on book shelves by Caribou Books, the publisher of the JLM series, sales were the highest they have ever been from Nov. 24 to December 24 2004.
The story was written as a guideline for little black girls to realize that they can portray themselves in a positive light and still be beautiful. Baker pointed out, “If you are never exposed to that [knowledge of positive portrayal], how are you supposed to know that you can do or be that?”
The JLM, Inc. series seeks to point out the good in black people to the youth of the district in an effort to increase their confidence in themselves and restore their desire to learn and succeed. This series is exactly what the children in the district need. The books are written by someone who lived the same life the children are living, “I have faith in these kids because I was one of them growing up,” stated Baker, who realizes that a small bit of confidence goes a long way.