Living Life Golden:The Power of Literacy for Women of Color

A Curation of Literacy Narratives

Listen to the Audio Version while reading along to hear my personal narrative of literacy’s power:

RaeNosa Hudnell is an English Major and Journalism and Communications minor at Calvin College. She is also the author of blog She’s Been Kissed by the Sun.

Many minorities first encounter with the English language is through literacy.  They are taught    from an early age that the language of literacy in schools and society is the language of the majority group. In the United States the majority group speaks Standard English.  Children come home from school reading books in English. Teacher, parent interaction about the child’s literacy, is also spoken in the language of the dominant groups.

Minorities who cannot speak or read proficiently in spoken English undergo a process of  dis- empowerment.

Those who cannot play by the cultural and linguistic rules of the majority group are denied power in our society. Education, literacy, power, and social justice show how lack of competent literacy can keep minorities in communities from achieving.

Literacy may mean more to me than others, because the ability to read and write was not always afforded to my people. There are countless examples of African slaves in America failing to obtain freedom from their masters until they were empowered by literacy.

Former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass said, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”

There are countless narratives that show that literacy continues to enable minority individuals to thrive in a society where majority rules.

It is twofold when you are a person of color and a woman as well, because you are fortunate enough to be the minority twice.

Women of color have often been excluded from movements of social justice and recognition. In spite of their exclusion, there have been countless examples of women of color empowering themselves and exemplifying greatness.

Like many other oppressed groups these women are often empowered by literacy and often create change after their encounter with it.

Reading gives power to minority women in many ways. The collection of literacy narratives curated will exemplify this very point.  Although each woman’s encounter with literacy is quite different the connection made between all of these narratives is that reading empowers change. It does not matter how little or big that change is. What matters, is that the change would not have been possible without reading. That in itself shows the intrinsic power of language and literacy.

Wairimu Kungu, senior Nursing major at Calvin College

The clip below shares Wairimu Kungu’s first experience with reading. She describes going to the library at a young age with her father learning how to read and speak. It was extremely difficult for her to learn because English was not her first language.  In spite of that she quickly learns because she knew the importance of literacy.

Wairimu story’s is significant to this curation because it shows the complexity of language and how intrinsic reading is to communication. She quotes, “My father did not want me to be an African woman in America who could not read.” She understood how critical it was for her to read, and admits that she would not be as successful today in her education if it were not for that beginning. Her narrative illustrates that reading empowers change.

Dr. Michelle Lloyd Paige, Dean of Multicultural Affairs at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI.

The clip below shares Dr. Michelle Lloyd Paige’s, Dean of Multicultural Affairs at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI configuration of the power of story. Her narrative is in contrast with Wairimu and Alejandra’s narratives, because she talks about reading in college.

She was at a place where she was curious about the women’s place in the church. In her narrative she talks about receiving a revelation about her place in the church as well as the place of other women after reading Sue Monk Kidd’s, Dance of the Dissident Daughter. You will have to listen for yourself to find out exactly what this means.

Dr. Paige’s narrative is significant to these narratives because it offers a different perspective on the power of reading. Wairimu’s narrative talks about reading setting the foundation for her education. In Dr. Paige’s narrative reading is already a part of her life. In this narrative literacy is used as a tool for change of her surroundings and abilities. This is an excellent example of how literacy is used daily. How many times has someone read a profound book and changed their situations because of the insight of a story, many! This narrative supports the idea that reading invokes change.

Alejandra Martinez is a senior at Calvin College obtaining a Master’s Degree in Speech Pathology and Audiology

Alejandra’s narrative is story that many American students can identify with, reading groups. Alejandra talks about her experience being put into the lower reading group as a child. She connects with many audiences in her narrative. The students put in the lower reading groups and the individual who learned English as a second language.

Alejandra’s story is important to this curation because it demonstrates the dis-empowerment an individual can feel or undertake when they cannot speak Standard English.  Each narrative shows the two-fold effect, however Alejandra’s example shows us what can happen when our community achieves literacy. Furthermore, this narrative exemplifies how important literary is to advancing one’s education, and later becoming a part of this literate society.

A special thanks to the individuals who participated in this curation.


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