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  • Writer's pictureAaron Braxton

Unlocking Potential: How Literacy Boosts Black Boys' Mental Health and Self-Esteem

Updated: May 30



Unlocking Potential: How Literacy Boosts Black Boys' Mental Health and Self-Esteem


Imagine this: your son, eyes wide open with excitement, holds up a book he just finished reading. He’s not only learned a new story, but also discovered a piece of himself in those pages. As a mother, you beam with pride, knowing that this small victory is part of a bigger journey toward building his confidence and emotional well-being.


The Power of Words


For Black boys, the journey of literacy isn't just about learning to read and write; it's about finding their voice in a world that often tries to silence it. Studies have shown that literacy significantly impacts mental health and self-esteem, offering a powerful tool for Black boys to navigate many of life's challenges.


Reading: A Superpower for Mental Health


When Black boys engage with literature, especially stories that reflect their own experiences, it can be transformative. It’s like discovering a superpower they never knew they had. They see characters who look like them, face similar struggles, and triumph in ways that resonate deeply within their souls. This connection helps in several ways:


  1. Coping Mechanism: Books can be a refuge from daily stresses, providing a safe space to explore emotions and scenarios in a controlled way.

  2. Empathy and Understanding: Reading about diverse characters fosters empathy and compassion, helping boys understand different perspectives, and how to build stronger, healthier relationships.

  3. Problem-Solving Skills: Many stories involve overcoming obstacles, which can teach valuable problem-solving skills about goal setting and resilience.


Building Blocks of Self-Esteem


Self-esteem is like a muscle – it strengthens with use. Here’s how literacy can give your son’s confidence the workout it needs to tackle the world:


  1. Achievement: Every book finished is a small victory, boosting self-confidence and reinforcing a sense of accomplishment.

  2. Knowledge IS Power: As the saying goes, the more you know, the more you grow. The more you grow, the faster you flow. Knowledge gained from reading can empower boys, making them feel more competent and in control.

  3. Identity Formation: Finding characters and stories that reflect their culture and experiences helps Black boys develop a strong sense of identity and pride.


How to Make Reading Fun and Engaging


Let’s face it – convincing a kid to pick up a book instead of a game controller can feel like pushing a boulder uphill. But fear not! Here are some tips to turn your son into a bookworm:


  1. Find the Right Books: Look for books with strong, relatable Black characters with topics they’re interested in. Titles like Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes or The Crossover by Kwame Alexander can be game-changers.

  2. Set an Example: Kids often imitate their parents. If they see you reading and enjoying it, they’re more likely to pick up a book themselves. (Remember - you're their FIRST teacher.)

  3. Make Reading a Ritual: Incorporate reading into your daily routine. A bedtime story or a Saturday morning reading hour can become cherished traditions. (My mom reading to me when I was a kid, are my most cherished childhood memories.)

  4. Library Adventures: Turn trips to the library into exciting outings. Let your child explore and choose books that catch their interest.


The Role of Schools and Communities


While your efforts at home are crucial, schools and communities also play a vital role in promoting literacy. Advocate for diverse books in school libraries and curriculums. Encourage community programs that support reading, such as book clubs, book mobiles, or literacy events.


Humor in Literacy


And now, for a touch of humor – because who said reading has to be serious all the time? Here are a few ways to sprinkle some fun into your reading routines:


  1. Funny Books: Choose books that make your child laugh. Laughter is a great motivator. Try The Season of Styx Magoon by Kekla Magoon.

  2. Silly Voices: When reading aloud, use different voices for different characters. It might make you feel a little ridiculous, but your child will love it (and secretly, you might too).

  3. Interactive Reading: Turn stories into mini-plays. Act out scenes or let your child create alternate endings to the stories.


Real-Life Stories: Inspiration from the Community


Sometimes, the best motivation comes from seeing real-life success stories. Take, for instance, the story of Marley Dias, a young Black girl who started the #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign. She saw a need for more representation in children’s literature and made a significant impact. Her story shows that young people can be powerful advocates for change.


Addressing the Challenges


We can’t ignore the elephant in the room – there are systemic challenges that make literacy access harder for Black boys. Underfunded schools, lack of resources, and social biases can all play a part. Here’s how you can help combat these issues:


  1. Speak Up: Advocate for better funding and resources in your child’s school no matter what!

  2. Community Involvement: Join or form local groups focused on literacy, education, diversity, and inclusion.

  3. Mentorship: Encourage older students and adults to mentor younger boys, fostering a community of support and encouragement.


Conclusion: The Bigger Picture


Ultimately, fostering a love for reading in Black boys is about more than just literacy. It’s about giving them the tools they need to understand themselves and the world around them. Tools that build confidence and foster an environment where they’re encouraged to dream as big as their imaginations! To leap without a net, knowing their unlimited creativity will encourage them to sprout wings.


As mothers, your role is pivotal. By encouraging your son to read, you’re not just helping him excel academically; you’re helping him grow emotionally and mentally, giving him a solid foundation, and setting him on a path to a brighter future.


So, grab a book, snuggle up, open up the universe, and let the adventures begin. Your son’s journey to greater self-esteem and mental health starts with the turn of a page. And who knows? You might just rediscover your own love for reading along the way.


Happy reading!




Aaron Braxton, a multi-hyphenated artist based in Los Angeles, has roots in Roxbury MA and Santa Rosa, CA. A SDSU graduate with a Master's from USC, he transitioned from a career in education to become a multi-award-winning screenwriter, actor, and author. His best-selling children's novel, Jesse and the Caterpillar Who Got Its Wings, has captured the hearts of readers everywhere. Discover it wherever books are sold. www.aaronkbraxton.com.

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