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At a nonviolence rally held in East St. Louis, Illinois, several speakers talked about how gun violence has impacted them personally. One gentleman spoke about how he had been in prison for 17 years. He only knew his son through visiting rooms. His son was a promising athlete. Two weeks before the father was released from prison, his son was senselessly shot and killed. The father said that when he was released all he could do was go get a haircut, buy a suit and go to his son’s funeral. He also said he didn’t turn to violence in revenge because it wouldn’t bring his son back.
Another speaker, a 17-year-old girl, shared how she saw her cousin shot before her eyes when she was only six years old. It happened again when she was about 15 years old and saw another cousin shot in front of her.
Several community leaders eloquently talked about the solution of loving one another, talking to one another, and having our politicians and church leaders come together in unity. They believed their community needed more things for kids to do, such as boys and girls clubs, after-school activities, and dedicated mentors. I believe in all of those strategies. But when it was my turn to speak, I talked about literacy as a strategy.
I remember hearing a story about a boy who was a very angry child growing up. He had a terrible temper. One day he got in a fight with another boy and he stabbed the boy. Fortunately that other boy was wearing a belt buckle that saved his life. From that point on the angry boy turned his life around, and he did it through reading books. Eventually he became a world-famous neurosurgeon. We all know him as Dr. Ben Carson.
I believe literacy is liberation. Literacy is power. It’s comfort and solace. You find yourself in books and find ideas and worlds you never knew before. Books take you on a journey into the hearts and minds of other people who can be just like you or very different from you. Through books, you develop empathy, compassion and understanding. Those emotions can replace anger and rage which can trigger violence.
Let’s teach our young people to put down the guns and pick up a book. Why kill? Read instead. You may save not only your life but someone else’s.
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