Critical Literacy Development in Children of African Descent

Gevonee FordSome of the members of our community who intimately know Gevonee’s work thought it would be appropriate for us to write a community blog because Gevonee embodies the spirit of our entire community. Gevonee has been a champion in Minnesota due to his advocacy for our children’s literacy development and is at the forefront of progressive education.

In the early 1990’s, our community had an initiative called the Cultural Beginnings Project, which Gevonee directed and which engaged in inquiry about the early childhood development of Black children. We were a collaborative partnership between parents, childcare workers, youth, government agency representatives, and community elders. Through our inquiry we began to understand the importance of African culture and identity development in our children as they were being prepared to venture out into the world. Out of our work in Cultural Beginnings there began to emerge a community vision of the cultural education our children would need to not only be successful, but also to be community minded as they grew. Gevonee emerged as a guardian of this vision; someone who would consistently remind our community of what we wanted for our children

Gevonee also led the development of the Network for the Development of Children of African Descent (NdCAD) as its founder and serves as its executive director. NdCAD has been in existence since 1997 and has been a way to institutionalize our community vision. The organization’s mission is to strengthen important connections within communities of African descent that help prepare our children for success in school and life. NdCAD uses a culturally based approach and provides evidence-based literacy programs and services for families. The organization works with parents, helping them build strong literacy foundations in the home and provides after school tutoring programs for kindergarten to 8th grade students. The organization also involves a broad range of community partners and educators to promote the importance of reading and cultural development and provides free children’s books to families throughout the Twin Cities Metropolitan area. Each year, NdCAD works with hundreds of children and their families and independent evaluations of the organization’s programs demonstrate improved reading proficiency and learning confidence amongst students and increased reading levels and academic performance in school as well as increased parental and community involvement in the education and schooling process of children. Overall, NdCAD’s work is about building and strengthening community connections that help our children understand and build upon the legacy of their cultural heritage and equip them with academic tools for success.

The impact of Gevonee’s work through NdCAD has been felt throughout the Twin Cities with so many families coming to realize they have the capacity to improve their lives and the lives of others. NdCAD is also growing and is planning to release the first ever comprehensive resource for Black children’s literature with guided reading levels. The Imhotep Science Academy, which is a culturally driven youth science initiative, has recently become part of NdCAD, and there are plans to launch a youth participatory action research program for high school students this fall. Gevonee has always been able to find and develop the expertise and resources within our community so that we are able to thrive and help each other as African descent people living in the United States. Hotep Gevonee! You make us proud!

Gevonee Ford is the Founder and Executive Director of Network for the Development of Children of African Descent (NdCAD)

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