Guest Column: Rams Read can help campus community connect, engage

Albert Bimper Jr.

Albert Bimper, Jr., is an associate professor in the Department of Ethnic Studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Senior Associate Athletic Director for Diversity and Inclusion.

Many may not know that an invitation to co-lead the inaugural Rams Read initiative not only came as a pleasant surprise, but it was a special invite that I found a bit ironic.

I was what you might call a late bloomer when it came to reading. I struggled with reading as a young boy. Early on, to be asked to read brought about feelings of fear, inadequacy and isolation in me. I saw my friends throughout my elementary years grow in their reading skills and find their passions and interests between the lines in ways I struggled to comprehend.

As a result, I learned to cope with my struggles of reading with avoidance tactics. I often took long retreats to the bathroom to avoid being called on to read in class. My retreats weren’t just down the hall. No, they became journeys to the farthest spaces of the school whenever possible. Because of these excursions to the bathroom, I soon became the most popular third-grader among our sixth-grade teachers.

For reasons that I still don’t fully understand, my inability to read didn’t prevent me from moving on from one grade level to the next with my peers. But I couldn’t hide at home. My mother only completed the eighth grade before dropping out of school in the ninth. My father immigrated to the United States from Ghana fueled with the grandest hopes and dreams grounded in a belief in education. Both of my parents, from their different life experiences, knew the value of education. Most fundamentally, they knew and believed in the power of reading.

When my parents realized that their first born could not read, when most others could, my father took on a second full-time job to earn just enough to send me to a private school for one year. I rarely saw my father at that time, but as a young boy, I was fully aware of the sacrifice he and my mother made so that I could read.

Early struggles reveal complex issues

What I’ve come to understand now is that my early struggles with reading, the sacrifices made, allowed me to see many of the complex and nuanced issues around class, equity, identity, race, injustice and justice for which I have studied and teach as a professor today.

I, like my peers in elementary, have come to find my own interests and passions between the lines of the text. For me, it just took me longer with the support and sacrifices of the village around me. Today, I am an avid reader of autobiographies beyond the books I read to include in my courses. I am drawn to the stories of prominent figures throughout history and how their lives have been shaped by a perseverance through the twists and turns of life.

I’m excited about the launch of the Colorado State University’s inaugural common read program because of the opportunity for us to collectively engage in some of the tough conversation. Reading was once isolating to me. Now, I realize that reading is a tool to connect.

I am hopeful that as we read Citizen: An American Lyric this year that we will not only connect with the author, Claudia Rankine, but that her story and perspectives on issues that are deeply challenging guide us to connect with one another as Rams. I am hopeful that through RAMS READ we will find ways to connect with others through listening and conversations of how all of our stories may be captured between the lines, as well.