“Literacy is. . .the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman and child can realize his or her full potential” – Kofi Annan. This quote is significant because it is a great way to start off a discussion about literacy and why it is important to define one’s self. Literacy skills are important to define self because in order to express yourself, it’s necessary to be able to use language in different ways to show different parts of yourself. One of the definitions of literacy is the ability to use language proficiently, and that is shown in three different examples, one of which is my independent reading novel, On The Come Up, by Angie Thomas.

In this novel, Bri, the main character, already has strong literacy skills, but struggles with applying them in real life. At the beginning, she raps a song that she wrote on the spot when she was feeling angry because of a violent incident at school that happened because of the security there. But, throughout the book, she then runs into a few issues with her family, friends, and some people in the neighborhood. Brianna’s literacy skills are important in defining herself because in her raps, she talks about how society describes her in comparison to how she defines herself. Without those skills, she would be defenseless against any stereotypes placed on her or anyone she is associated with throughout the book. Though the novel is fiction, it is composed of many real elements that describe the difference between what it is like to have a voice, and what it is like not to. Having a literal voice in this context is the decider in whether or not someone has strong literacy skills.

Secondly, another example of how literacy skills are crucial in defining self is in the other novel written by Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give. In The Hate U Give, Starr, the main character, is struggling with finding her literacy skills. She tries to figure out how to use language proficiently when speaking about her friend Khalil’s death. This internal conflict is crucial because whether or not she can speak out about Khalil’s murder will be a crucial component in how Starr defines herself at the end of the day. Both Bri in On The Come Up, and Starr struggle with how to express their thoughts and concerns about how black people are treated by security or law enforcement without being portrayed as a “Ratchet hood rat” (Thomas, On The Come Up 355). In The Hate U Give, Starr had been previously isolated for speaking up about Emmett Till – a black boy murdered for whistling at a white woman in 1955 – on her social media, and Bri was also depicted incorrectly when her song, On the Come Up, was released. Both girls were desperately trying to seek balance between speaking up using literacy skills while doing it in a civil manner.

The final example of how literacy skills are crucial to fully define yourself comes in “3 Ways To Speak English.” The author, Jamila, of this spoken word knows how to use the English language in 3 different ways to express herself in diverse settings. The first is in a professional/classroom setting where she uses “proper” English and an expansive vocabulary with multisyllabic words. The second is in a “hood” with her African-American friends, where she’ll use a lot of contractions and different types of phrases. Finally, she will speak Patois with her parents that originate from the Caribbean, and say some phrases like “yeah man”. Jamila uses her various literacy skills in different settings to define herself wholly. All 3 of those places are equally important aspects of her life. The difference between Jamila, and Starr and Bri is that she is older, and therefore more experienced in expressing herself fully by using diverse literacy skills.

In conclusion, literacy skills are crucial in order to fully express yourself. That is shown in On The Come Up, The Hate U Give, and 3 Ways To Speak English. In Angie Thomas’s first book mentioned, Bri uses her lyrics in rap to express how she feels about society and how black people like herself are treated. In The Hate U Give, Starr struggles to find her voice and how to use it to speak out about her best friend Khalil’s murder. Finally, Jamila Lyiscott knows how to use her voice to express her thoughts with different people. Finally, without their voices and literacy skills, the 3 women, just like everyone, would be powerless in how to express themselves and their ideas.

Works Cited:

Lyiscott, Jamila. “3 Ways to Speak English.” Ted.com, Feb. 2014, www.ted.com/talks/jamila_lyiscott_3_ways_to_speak_english.

Thomas, Angie. On The Come Up. Balzer + Bray, an Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, 2019.

Thomas, Angie. The Hate u Give. Balzer + Bray, an Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, 2018.

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CC BY-SA 4.0 Literacy Skills in Defining Yourself by Catherine is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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