Shaka Anu, Class of 2023 GED Graduate and BeLit Book Club Member (in her own words)

My name is Shaka Anu, and I’m from Philadelphia, Pa. I came to Beyond Literacy to attain my GED, not really knowing what to expect but having a firm goal. Now having achieved my goal, diploma in hand, I look back on the classes I attended, the teachers that taught them, and forwards to where my journey goes from here.

Ms. Lindsay, Mr. Warren and Ms. Claire Tucker were some of the absolute best. They molded the knowledge and skills I already possessed, helping me build upon them. With dedication, determination, and teachers that made it interesting and fun to learn I excelled. I remember the “fun stories” Ms. Lindsay deployed to help us remember different techniques and smile. They made you laugh, and helped you remember.

While in the program I enrolled in an internship and participated in a book club. The book club was not just exciting, but enlightening and aligned beautifully with my love of reading.

Now it’s time for me to decide where I want to go from here in my education, and in my current and future career journey. Like most humans around the world, knowing for certain where my path leads and in what field is not always clear cut. As such, I have my eyes set on college and building upon that to attend law school.

My advice to young adults is whether you’re aiming to attain your GED, get a secondary education, or achieve any long-time dream, don’t be afraid to set your goals high. High goals based in practicality, and with determination, will push you far.

And even if your goal is not fully realized, the journey will take you places that are agreeable and wonderful. You may be surprised just how much you really can accomplish along the way!

BeLit Book Club’s inspirational reflections on the novel Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, as presented by Shaka (edited for brevity):

“She had a lot to learn and a lot to offer.” This quote relates to Katherine Johnson breaking a barrier as the first African American woman invited to sit at editorial meetings for research papers in her division, being invited into the conversation. This is our invitation to you – join our conversation!

By reading and talking together about the book – the characters, the events, the author’s insights, the emotions and memories the writing stirs up – we got to know each other in a unique way. We sat together and established connections, both with each other and with the challenges that these women faced, whether racism, sexism, putting our children’s needs first, the fear of going somewhere new and starting over, or having to learn new skills to keep our jobs.

In the movie, you will see a lot about these women as professional mathematicians. In the book, these women are more than professionals; they are mothers, wives, girl scout troop leaders, public speakers, and professionals. 

In one chapter, Mary Jackson uses her skills as a NASA engineer to support her son in the All American Soap Box Derby, where boys were challenged to create a fast, engine-less vehicle to race down a long hill. One of our participants pointed this out as one of her favorite chapters. Mary’s son became the first young black man to win this race. When asked what he wanted to do when he grew up, he says, “I want to be an engineer like my mother.”

Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden served as mentors and role models to a younger generation. In a conversation we had about breaking barriers, one of our group said, “That first person is an example, someone you can hold up whenever someone says ‘Oh you can’t do that.’” We can. 

Who do you hold up when someone says “You can’t do that.” Is it your mother? Your father? A friend? An inspirational hero? It’s different for everyone. We asked that question to the whole book club, and it was different for everyone. Answers ranged from Cleopatra to people’s grandmothers. Our book club members have diverse ages and backgrounds, but we all had people who we admired who told us, “You can.” 

The communities that supported these women told them, again and again, ‘You can.’ The sororities, churches, co-workers, family, and spouses who rallied around these women allowed them to dream bigger and attain the courage to overcome the prejudice of American society. 

One moment that came up frequently in our Book Club discussions was when the school principal where Katherine Johnson taught gave her an entire set of math reference books, because he was worried that she would be barred from the library. Succeeding in the face of opposition requires community. Community is a resource that today has sadly dwindled. From aunts to uncles, school teachers to neighbors, Dorothy Vaughan’s community took care of those within.

It’s not always easy to follow your dreams and ambitions no matter where you hail from. We need teachers, neighbors, and people to lend us encouragement, support, and instill in us the morals and respect we need throughout life. The importance of staying focused on long-term goals and refusing to get side-tracked by challenges resonated strongly with our book club. “To endure and still stay focused on what we want to do,” as a group member put it, is a constant challenge that the world throws our way.

These women were trailblazers who supported and were supported by their communities. As you watch the movie or read the book, think about ways your life relates to theirs. Remember to listen to these women’s stories that say, “You can.” We, the BeLit book club, hope that you enjoy the movie and the stories within.

Read the June newsletter, The BeLit Bulletin here:

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